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Conference Proceeding

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As part of an NSF Department Level Reform (DLR) grant, the civil and environmental engineering programs at the University of Vermont (UVM) incorporated systems thinking and a systems approach to engineering problem solving within their programs. A systems thinking approach regards social, environmental and economic factors as necessary components of the problem solution. Because it is a whole systems approach it also encompasses sustainability. We have integrated systems thinking in the following ways; 1) new material has been included into key courses (e.g. the first-year introductory and senior design courses), 2) a sequence of three related environmental and transportation systems courses have been included within the curricula (i.e., Introduction to Systems, Decision Making, and Modeling), and 3) service-learning (S-L) projects have been integrated into key required courses as a way of practicing a systems approach. This culminates in the senior design course in which many of the projects specifically focus on sustainability. A variety of assessment methods have been implemented as part of our reform including student surveys, focus groups, faculty interviews, and assessment of student work. We specifically designed a survey tool that addressed sustainability understanding (both open ended and Likert scale). The survey was given to first-year first semester (FYFS) civil and environmental engineering students, FYFS environmental science students, and senior civil and environmental engineering students. Approximately 50% of the incoming civil and environmental engineering students could not define or give reasonable examples of what sustainability means, while their counterparts in environmental science showed that almost 100% could provide a good definition and provide reasonable examples of sustainability. However, by the end of the introductory course in engineering, the majority of the engineering students had a good working definition of sustainability and examples. Female students in both groups showed a statistically significantly higher interest in learning about sustainability than their male counterparts. © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education.

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© 2011 American Society for Engineering Education