University of Vermont

UVM engineering students could be coming to your town

Release Date: 08-07-2006

Author: Dawn Densmore

This fall, UVM engineering students will be spending less time in the classroom and more time in the field. Perhaps even in your town! A National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $860,000 for the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS), Civil and Environmental Engineering, is geared toward creating programmatic reform that includes the introduction of community service-learning projects within the curricula.

Systems ApproachThis engineering reform focuses on a systems approach to civil and environmental engineering design. "We want our graduates to take a broader approach to problem solving and consider the social, environmental and economic aspects, not just the technical, in the engineering solution," says Professor Nancy Hayden, Principal Investigator of the grant. "Service-learning projects are a way of putting the systems approach into practice for our students, and they provide a real service to the community."

Students enrolled in the first-year Introduction to Civil and Environmental Engineering course, in the sophomore-level Geomatics course, as well as senior courses will work in towns around Vermont. "We want our students to have at least one service-learning project for each year in the program," said Dr. Mandar Dewoolkar, one of the investigators on the grant, "and hopefully more in their senior year."

In total, five UVM professors (four in Civil and Environmental Engineering — Drs. Dewoolkar, Hayden, Rizzo and Sadek — and one in Education, Dr. Neumann) are working on this grant, but the enthusiasm and momentum have rubbed off on all of the Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty members, as well as those in other programs.

In practice

Already, towns have benefited from this grant. For example, students in a senior foundations course partnered with Shelburne Farms and the Preservation Trust of Vermont to work on foundation problems at three historic buildings. CEMS students surveyed damage, took soil samples, tested and performed analyses, and came up with remedial measures and cost estimates for the buildings.

CEMS student Robert Rivard inspects the
foundation at Grand Isle Lake House. "This information is extremely useful to us as we move toward defining a repair project for the Grand Isle Lake House," noted Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. "These students will ensure that communities from all over the state get the assistance they need in their ongoing efforts to preserve and use historic and architectural resources in Vermont." According to Alec Webb, president of Shelburne Farms, the students' work "gave us a starting point in repairing two sites — the Woodshop in the Southern Acres complex and the Formal Gardens at Shelburne House — both [of which] contribute to the National Historic Landmark district."

Real-world experience

Not only do the community partners benefit, but the projects provide hands-on learning and professional experience for students. Jennifer Fifield, a recent CEMS graduate, commented on the real-world experience she had gained. "The Woodshop was built on a shallow, loose stone foundation — we could see where the lack of modern concrete caused instability and uneven settlement throughout the years." Jenn Gagnon, another student in the course, noted that this kind of problem "forced us to explore several alternative processes, such as evaluations of slopes and retaining structures."

Other civil and environmental engineering partners this past spring included the Burlington International Airport and Recycle North. Both of these community groups worked with CEMS students in the Senior Capstone Design Course. "When one of the stakeholders changed their mind about a month into the project regarding the size of the building he wanted," Professor Hayden says, "the students were pretty upset because they had to go back to the drawing board. But I thought it was great, because it was real — the kind of thing that happens to professional engineers all the time."

Potential partners

If you have civil and/or environmental engineering problems in your town and are interested in being a potential partner, please contact Dr. Nancy Hayden, UVM, College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Civil & Environmental Engineering.

For more information

For more information on this grant, visit Systems at CEE.