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Engineering Students Learning to Address Sustainability

July 30, 2009

Beginning this fall, engineering students at The University of Texas at Arlington will be part of concerted efforts to improve their knowledge of and competency in addressing sustainability issues in engineering design and problem solving. Three engineering departments are collaborating to infuse their curricula with sustainability concepts from the freshman through the senior year.

Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Melanie Sattler is coordinating the “Engineering Sustainable Engineers” program, which is being underwritten by a $150,000 grant by the National Science Foundation. Her collaborators include Drs. Yvette Weatherton and Stephen Mattingly from Civil Engineering, Kambiz Alavi from Electrical Engineering, and Victoria Chen and Jamie Rogers from Industrial & Manufacturing Systems Engineering.

“Sustainability is one of the global grand challenges of the 21st century,” said Dr. Sattler. “In order for future generations to enjoy a satisfactory quality of life, the current generation must find ways to meet humanity’s needs for energy, shelter, food and water in ways that are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. This program will equip UT Arlington engineering students with sustainability concepts they can apply to real-world projects and problems.”

Sustainability concepts will be integrated via one-class modules into 12 core engineering courses, spanning from the “Introduction to Engineering” course that is required of all freshmen all the way up through senior design projects. Program developers predict that students will be conditioned to consider sustainability as an integral part of design and will carry this forward throughout their careers.

As part of the program, senior civil, electrical and industrial engineering students will have the opportunity to participate in a multi-disciplinary sustainable engineering senior design project. Seniors will collaborate to design, fabricate and assemble a portable biodiesel production refinery for the UT Arlington campus. Fuel produced by the refinery from dining hall waste grease could then be used by the campus’ fleet of diesel-powered vehicles. A microreactor process to refine biodiesel has been developed by College of Engineering researchers.

A portion of the grant will be used to support five internships at area companies that have operational sustainability programs. “We will be conducting a survey to identify companies that can provide the best internship programs for our students,” Dr. Sattler stated. “We’re also hope to develop long-lasting relationships with these companies for the placement of more students.”

In addition to enlightening engineering students at UT Arlington, instructional elements developed as a part of the “Engineering Sustainable Engineers” project will have broad applicability at engineering schools across the country and to various engineering disciplines. “We’ll be developing a project website where we can post the course supplemental materials and comments on performance outcomes that faculty at other universities can use to develop similar programs,” said Dr. Sattler. “We will also be disseminating our program successes through education journal articles and conference presentations.”