Experience in Developing Countries

Evaluation of Three Methods for Enabling Experience in Developing Countries Within the Undergraduate Engineering Curriculum

Principal Investigator: Stephen E. Silliman, Department of Civil Engineering

Contact: Stephen E. Silliman, Stephen.E.Silliman.1@nd.edu
Dr. Silliman has experimented with several techniques to address two goals:  (a) to provide undergraduate engineering students with appreciation for the needs and challenges of third-world development, and (b) to develop interactive learning experiences between Notre Dame engineers and faculty and students in underdeveloped countries. Experiments have included (i) working trips to Haiti involving engineering and non-engineering students, (ii) a course from Israel to students at Notre Dame, (iii) interdisciplinary student teams working on projects in Third World Water Supply, and (iv) student interaction with faculty and students in Benin through this same course.

The purpose of Dr. Silliman's Carnegie Scholarship of Teaching project is to assess the effectiveness of these various efforts, especially given the costs in terms of faculty and student time and university resources, and the potential danger to faculty and students in the underdeveloped countries.  Assessment will be performed through a series of surveys of alumni of the civil engineering program, as well as entrance and exit surveys of students who are taking or will have taken the Third World Water Supply course during the next two academic years.


Student survey data completed during this project is the source for the following outcomes.

  1. A paper that was presented in June 2003 at the American Society of Engineering Education comparing my three learning experiences in developing countries. Based on the survey data and feedback from journals, I was able to show that the course objectives impacted how the learning experience was delivered to the student which, in turn, dramatically altered the student reaction to the learning experience. Bottom line, the Haiti experiential seminar (focused on the technical AND social / spiritual dimensions of technical work in developing countries) led to the students appreciating the social attributes of working in a developing country as reflected both in their journal entries and in the number of these students who have pursued service as their first position following graduation. In contrast, our summer research program focuses on the technical aspects of working in developing countries. In this case, the student surveys noted that the experience increased their appreciation for research - an outcome reflected in the fact that the vast majority of these students have (or will upon graduation) pursue graduate studies.
  2. The surveys, and analysis of response, led to the observation that the classroom course on water supply in developing countries had substantially less impact on the students in terms of learning and motivation for future work in developing countries.
  3. The surveys for the summer REU have led to continuing modification of how we introduce the students to their projects. Specifically, we have substantially shortened (and will shorten again this coming summer) the period of study that the students complete at Notre Dame prior to going to their research country. Bottom line, the classroom learning is "okay" according to the student, but is far less rich during the period prior to experiencing their work in-country. More discussion is being moved to the period following the travel into the country.
  4. These experiential learning opportunities focused on global social concerns attract women over men to a dramatic degree (e.g., the summer research program attracts ~55% of the applicants from women and 17 of 19 participants have been women as compared to the 21% women national average in undergraduate engineering programs).