Assessment and improvement of sustainability education in civil and environmental engineering
Watson, Mary K.
MetadataShow full item record
Sustainable development through sustainable engineering is a promising strategy for combating unsustainable patterns of population growth, resource consumption, and environmental degradation. For sustainable engineering to alleviate global problems, however, improvements in undergraduate education are required to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to engage in sustainable design. Consequently, the goal of this dissertation is to assess and improve sustainability education in civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Three phases of inquiry were conducted to (1) examine the current status of CEE sustainability education, (2) use assessment results to develop a pedagogically-innovative sustainability module, and (3) investigate the impacts of implementing the module into select CEE courses on student learning. Several key findings resulted from this work. First, the Sustainability Tool for Assessing Universities’ Curricula Holistically (STAUNCH®) suggested that integration of sustainability into the curriculum was incomplete and favored environmental sustainability. Second, CEE seniors’ conceptual understanding of sustainability, based on concept map results, was found to be generally correct, although limited in comprehensiveness, connectedness, and balance. Third, examination of capstone project reports (2002 and 2011) using the novel Sustainable Design Rubric revealed little change in the students’ sustainable design abilities over the past decade, due potentially in part to students simply “meeting the expectations” of project sponsors. Based on these insights, a five-part, learning-cycle-based sustainability module was developed and implemented in CEE capstone and cornerstone design courses. Higher learning gains for cornerstone students, as compared to seniors, supports future integration of the module into cornerstone design courses. While project results are especially important for CEE at Georgia Tech, other programs and institutions may benefit from the development and improvement of sustainability knowledge assessment tools, as well as the empirically-informed and theoretically-grounded sustainability module.