Cross-Disciplinary Service-Learning to Enhance Engineering Identity and Improve Communication Skills

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Jennifer Keshwani
Krista Adams


Traditional engineering curricula often do not provide opportunities for students to experience working with non-technical collaborators on real projects. Such interactions may help engineering students develop relevant communication skills. In this study, junior level engineering students collaborated with junior level elementary education students to develop afterschool STEM clubs for elementary children. The study sought to identify the effects of a cross-disciplinary, project-based service-learning experience on:  a) the development of a deeper understanding of engineering as a discipline and b) the development of skills necessary to communicate technical information to a non-technical audience. This paper describes the learning outcomes achieved by engaging undergraduate engineering students in cross-disciplinary working relationships. The results suggest that the cross-disciplinary experience affected learning in the knowledge, skills, attitudes and identity of student participants. Student learning was assessed through analysis of questionnaire responses and student reflections. The results also confirmed that simply knowing technical information does not correlate with the ability to communicate that same information. Students reported that they gained experience communicating technical content with non-technical audiences and developed leadership skills. Opportunities to learn communication skills were identified through student comments in course questionnaires and end of the semester focus group discussions.

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