Community-based projects by first-year engineering students

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Title

ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings

Publication Date



At Elizabethtown College, for the last two years in the Fall semester of our "Introduction to Engineering" course, we have replaced our traditional "canned" design activities with engineering projects based in the community. In the Fall semester of 2003,24 students participated in the Introduction to Engineering course, completing seven projects in the community, including two wheelchair ramps, a jig set to perform life skills, a dollhouse for victims of abuse, a vertical maze for a children's display, and a handrail system for a walking bridge. In the Fall of 2004, 36 students worked on ten projects including a wheelchair ramp, proximity sensors for a power wheelchair, toy-boxes for families in transitional housing, basement access for a community center, CAD and GIS map work for a neighboring borough and two dollhouses for a fundraising auction. These projects are well suited to first year engineering students, as they generally do not require skill-sets developed in upper-level science and engineering courses. Yet, these projects are genuine, have real clients, and are able to address many important topics in the Introduction to Engineering curriculum, including teamwork, problem solving, design, communication skills, project management and the application of basic engineering principles. In this paper, we address the merits and challenges of these community-based projects, as well as provide an overall discussion of the experience.

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