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Conference Proceeding

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In recent years, civil engineering education and workforce development have evolved to include a greater emphasis on sustainability and resiliency. Sustainability balances economic, ecological, and societal needs by being responsive to community impact, human health, and the environment. Resilient infrastructure lasts, retaining functional and structural capacity and supporting interconnected transportation, energy, water, and social systems after a distress event. While many undergraduate civil engineering programs address sustainability, it tends to be limited to individual courses, and resiliency concepts are rarely incorporated. To address these shortcomings, we are incorporating sustainability and resiliency conceptual threads and activities throughout our curriculum, from our first-year engineering course through senior design.

To understand the effectiveness of this initiative, at the beginning of this project we conducted interviews with senior civil engineering students to collect baseline data on our current students’ views and understanding of sustainability and responsibility. Thematic analysis of these interviews suggests that there is significant variability in students’ understanding of sustainability, with some students recognizing that sustainability involves tradeoffs between economic, environmental, and societal needs, while others tended to conflate sustainability with environmentalism. While students reported encountering sustainability in a portion of their undergraduate courses, they generally did not learn about how sustainability related to much of their technical coursework such as structures, soils, or transportation. Most current students have little conceptual understanding of resiliency which is not surprising given that it is not addressed in any substantial way in our current curriculum. This provides clear evidence of the need for greater exposure to both sustainability and resiliency and understanding the relationship between these practices as part of the undergraduate civil engineering curriculum.

By incorporating sustainability and resiliency throughout the undergraduate civil engineering curriculum, students will be better prepared to address these topics as part of their senior design projects, and in their future careers.

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© 2018, American Society for Engineering Education, Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference (Salt Lake City, UT).