Addressing Academic and Community Needs via a Service-Learning Center

Addressing Academic and Community Needs via a Service-Learning Center

P. Cea, M. Cepeda, M. Gutiérrez, M. Muñoz (2014).  Addressing Academic and Community Needs via a Service-Learning Center. 10.

This paper describes the Service Learning Center recently created at the School of Engineering of the Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción (UCSC), Chile. This center was established in 2012 as a result of the School of Engineering curricular reform. Its goal is to help students develop and strengthen their personal and interpersonal skills, and their disciplinary knowledge, through participation in community service activities that expose them to real-world engineering-in-context experiences. Thus, the Service Learning Center contributes to the university’s strategic plan, which fosters integration with the community to promote both regional and national development, and to the university’s institutional mission, which is made manifest through 11 UCSC generic competences, matching several CDIO personal and professional skills and attitudes (CDIO Syllabus level 2), and interpersonal skills (CDIO Syllabus level 3).

To fulfill its goals, the Service Learning Center must first diagnose community needs and then identify relevant problems that match the engineering programs’ scopes and academic needs. Then, service learning activities are designed by both instructors and community stakeholders. Once a project is designed, it is implemented by students from one or more courses belonging to one or more engineering programs. Assessment of the service learning activities is twofold: first, instructors assess the achievement of the courses’ learning outcomes; then, the Service Learning Center assesses the achievement of the goals from the community’s point of view via surveys given to students, faculty, community stakeholders, and institutions.

The School of Engineering started implementing pilot experiences using the service learning methodology in the context of helping communities affected by the 2010 Chilean earthquake. Students from different disciplines such as engineering, marine biology, and social services worked together in several projects and studies. Later assessments showed high levels of student motivation, greater identification with their chosen disciplines, and improvement in personal and interpersonal skills. Given these successful experiences, the Service Learning Center was born to help coordinate and organize these activities, and to systematize data gathering processes. To date, the Service Learning Center has applied the service learning methodology in courses such as Topography for Civil Engineering, Thermal and Chemical Processes for Industrial Engineering and Databases for Computer Science.

Our preliminary results are encouraging. They show a high level of student satisfaction with their service learning experiences, improved communication and strengthened collaboration among students and the community, higher student commitment to their discipline, and an overall feeling of satisfaction with their contributions to solving real problems in the community. Moreover, our preliminary data shows that the Service Learning Center’s role has been relevant in instilling students with the institutional hallmark and also in forging lasting relationships between academia and the community. However, from the academic point of view, the service learning methodology requires a high degree of commitment in terms of instructors’ time and institutional resources. So far, few instructors have participated and are trained in service learning activities. Extra efforts are needed to enhance faculty competence in this methodology and also to extend these relationships to other communities.

Proceedings of the 10th International CDIO Conference, Barcelona, Spain, June 15-19 2014

Authors (New): 
Patricio Cea
Manuel Cepeda
Mariella Gutiérrez
Marcia Muñoz
Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción, Chile
Integrated curriculum
CDIO Standard 1
CDIO Standard 2
CDIO Standard 3
CDIO Standard 5
CDIO Standard 7
CDIO Standard 8
CDIO Standard 10
CDIO Standard 11
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