Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

Engineering for Humanity, an interdisciplinary engineering design and anthropology course at Olin College of Engineering, is a semester-long service-learning partnership between the college and nearby Councils on Aging. This paper examines the effects of this service learning on our students and their partners. Our research suggests that this service-learning curriculum has positively impacted students’ and elder partners’ behavior and attitudes. We collected data from student and partner surveys, from interviews with the community partners, and from student reflections. By comparing student behavior and attitudes before and after this course, we have observed the following behavioral and attitudinal changes: 1) development of empathetic knowledge and understanding, 2) increased appreciation for user-centered design, 3) redefinition of career trajectories. We also saw transformations in the lives of the community partners. Outcomes for elders were related to quality of life and wellbeing and included 1) decreases in isolation, 2) increased purpose and meaning, and 3) improved feelings of wellbeing. Lasting effects included continuation of decreased isolation through a sustained increase in social engagement, as well as positive thoughts about and mechanisms for aging in place. This paper also describes the curriculum and reports on these trends over three years of coursework.

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