Statler College professor launches new experiential learning course
For technical degrees like engineering and computer science, lectures and tests are customary in the classroom. The Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources is flipping the script on traditional learning practices by offering a new experiential learning course for engineering students.
Story by Brittany Furbee, Communications Specialist
Kevin Orner, assistant professor in the Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is a firm believer that students learn best from hands-on experiences, which is why he was motivated to develop curriculum for his new graduate level course, Sustainable Development Engineering.
According to Orner, the course, which launched in the fall of 2022, focuses on using interdisciplinary and sustainable engineering practices with the goal being to provide equitable access to food, energy, water and healthcare to those in low-and middle-income countries and underserved communities.
“Experiential learning allows students to gain technical knowledge while also working on real projects that can make a tangible difference,” Orner said. “After students graduate, they will encounter complex challenges that may be more social than technical. This course provides students a safe and active learning environment to work with classmates and members of the community to solve real-world problems.”
The curriculum incorporates lessons on public health, anthropology, science policy, and technology and includes specific applications for sustainable engineering in West Virginia and the Morgantown area.
“Students in my course are working on a group project in which they observe how effective stormwater infrastructure is on different parts of the Evansdale campus,” Orner explained. “When students observe infrastructure that may be underperforming during weather events, they are able to make recommendations in class that we can then attempt to implement.”
After weeks of monitoring storm water infrastructure across campus, students will compile their data and presented their findings and recommendations to Brian Lemme, a stormwater specialist for WVU Enviornmental Health and Safety.
“We plan to implement several suggestions from the student groups and turn them into reality,” Lemme said. “They are simple low-scale projects that will give them a hands-on approach from conceptual design and development through full implementation and construction. It will also provide them with a little ownership when they walk around campus and review their areas to determine if their ideas worked or need improvement.”
To further explore water systems in the area, Orner took his students on a field trip to Morgantown Utility Board’s Flegal Dam & Reservoir, where they received a tour of the facility and an overview of the design and construction process at that site. They also discussed how MUB interacts with municipalities and other regulatory stakeholders, which directly relates to principles covered in the course curriculum.
Another module in the course focuses on teaching students how to collect drinking water from the ground using hand pumps that they engineered. Rather than just writing a plan on ways to construct an effective hand pump, Orner had students work in teams to put their designs to the test during a live hand pump competition.
“Students may later work as engineering consultants, international development workers, or with the government to provide drinking water for marginalized communities,” Orner said. “The ability to construct a functioning tool using local materials at low cost is a great exercise in problem solving and contextual awareness that will benefit students in a wide variety of engineering applications.”
Orner designed the course to allow room in the schedule for experts from various fields to join the class as guest lecturers. Experts from WVU and the University of Madison Wisconsin joined the class to discuss sustainable development goals, Engineers Without Borders projects, stormwater management and rural drinking water in West Virginia. Students also heard from two different professionals from institutions in Costa Rica, as they deliver lectures on agroforestry, sustainable development, constructed wetlands, and resource recovery.
Sustainable Development Engineering is a required course for a new undergraduate program in environmental engineering that is planned to begin in Fall 2023.
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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