Santa Clara University


Center for Community-Based Engineering Projects Takes Another Step Forward

"Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I learn.”
                                                                                                  Benjamin Franklin

As part of the University’s mission to educate responsible citizens who work to create a more just and humane society, the School of Engineering is forming a center for community-based engineering projects. Here, students can select assignments to work on for a quarter or an entire year that will give them hands-on experience while serving the community.

This effort reflects the ardent efforts of Dr. Ruth Davis, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Computer Engineering. For 10 years Davis has been building an infrastructure to support such a venture, with the goal of having all engineering students involved in some phase of community-based project work.

“It all started with a proposal to the National Science Foundation to increase the retention of women students in engineering,” Davis said. Over the years, Davis has received more than $1 million in grants to support the project and has enlisted the participation of other faculty members to revise the undergraduate curriculum based largely upon community-based learning.

Dr. Shoba Krishnan, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and fellow proponent of community outreach and service was recruited into the effort last year and is teaching the School of Engineering’s Community-Based Projects course this winter. She will also head a project in engineering education for middle and high school students now in development for the Bechtel Foundation. “There is a huge desire on our students’ part to work on projects for the community,” said Krishnan; “it is exciting for them to see what they have developed put to good use.”

Patti Rimland, Program Coordinator, Community Projects and Partnerships, is enthusiastic about the opportunities the Center will provide SCU engineering students. “The experience of working on real-world projects in the community develops students’ skills in teamwork, communication, and an awareness of social issues,” she said. “Through their community involvement, students begin to recognize and understand the benefits of life-long citizenship, civic engagement, and social reality in today’s society.”

Commenting on the long-term outlook for the Center, Davis notes, “This is another step in the development of what promises to be a tremendous asset to both SCU and our neighbors. It is a win-win-win situation. The students win with the experience of real-world projects for real clients, the clients win by getting assistance with projects they could not otherwise afford, and the profession wins by educating the community about who engineers are and what they do, resulting in more students considering engineering as a possible career path. We envision both local and global projects such as those we have supported in El Salvador, India, and Nicaragua, implemented by teams that are not only interdisciplinary but also international. The possibilities are endless!”