Abstract: The civil and environmental engineering (CEE) programs at the University of Vermont (UVM) incorporate systems thinking and a systems approach to sustainable engineering problem solving. A systems approach considers long-term social, environmental and economic factors within the context of the engineering problem solution and encompasses sustainable engineering solutions. Our goal is to prepare students to become leaders in their chosen field who can anticipate co-products associated with forecasted solutions. As a way of practicing the systems approach, we include service-learning projects in many of our undergraduate engineering courses, culminating with the senior capstone design course. We use a variety of formative and summative assessment methods to gage student understanding and attitudes including student surveys, focus groups, assessment of student projects, and student reflections. Student reflections from two courses -Modeling Environmental and Transportation Systems (31 juniors) and Senior Design Project (30 seniors) are compared. Of these, 25 students were common to both courses. The focus of the systems modeling service-learning project involved mentoring home-schooled children (11-14 yrs old) to solve problems of mobility, using the fun and inspiration of biomimicry. Students were required to invent innovative methods to move people or goods that improve associated constraints (i.e., minimize congestion, reduce pollution, increase safety), or reduce the need for transportation altogether. The capstone design project required a comprehensive engineering design involving two or more CEE sub-disciplines. Both service-learning projects were intended to enhance students' academic learning experience, attain civic engagement and reinforce transferable skills (written and oral communication, teamwork, leadership and mentoring skills). The student course reflections were not guided; yet they provided valuable data to assess commonalities and differences in student attitudes toward their service-learning projects, specifically, the development of transferable skills. In the spirit of service-learning pedagogy, we divide the contents of students' written reflections into three categories - academic enhancement, civic engagement and personal growth skills. The commonalities focused mostly on civic engagement. Differences are observed primarily in academic enhancement and personal growth categories. Students working on the biomimicry design project reflected on personal growth (e.g. leadership skills, mentoring, creativity, organizational skills, communication to nontechnical audience), but did not credit it with academic enhancement. In contrast, the senior design reflections concentrated on academics, specifically, students appreciated the enhancement of technical skills as a part of their engineering experience.
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Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.
Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.
Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.
Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.
Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).