Three universities team up to enhance environmental engineering curricula

October 05, 2005

A collaborative research team led by Carnegie Mellon University's Cliff Davidson, David Allen of The University of Texas at Austin and Brad Allenby of Arizona State University plans to revolutionize the way engineering education is taught through a new Center for Sustainable Engineering.

The center, supported by $1.7 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and $350,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is designed to help future engineers better manage increased stress on the world's limited resources.

Sustainable engineering involves meeting society's present needs for building materials, natural gas and other resources without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs for human development.

"Our goal is to encourage all of the 1,500 engineering programs nationally to incorporate environmental considerations into how they teach students to design processes and products," said Allen, a professor of chemical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, and the lead engineer on the center's EPA grant.

"Teaching environmental concepts should be done in the same way engineers have been teaching safety concepts for decades," he added.

Public desires to conserve energy conflict with its growing consumption as the global population expands and standards of living improve, adding to energy use. These factors provided a compelling reason to start the new virtual center, dedicated to teaching and rewarding engineers who incorporate environmental and social constraints into projects. The center's opening also coincides with a national conference that starts today at The University of Texas at Austin for the Engineers for a Sustainable World.

More than 500 engineering students and faculty, representatives from U.S. non-governmental organizations and 12 members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will attend the non-profit organization's meeting. It is designed to encourage engineers to create an interest in sustainable environment approaches with counterparts in education, business and technology.

Pursuing energy-saving approaches such as adding extra insulation to buildings, replacing leaky windows or selecting more fuel-efficient modes of transportation are time-consuming, but worthy options that can be considered, said Davidson, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon, and the lead engineer on the new center's NSF grant.

The Center for Engineering Sustainability will help galvanize engineering programs into action to promote such conscientious decisions by creating a Web site of peer-reviewed educational materials about sustainable engineering with Prentice Hall's Pearson Custom Publishing, and by conducting a nationwide survey of sustainable-engineering programs and courses to benchmark the status of education in this emerging discipline.

"Although some engineering programs have incorporated sustainable engineering into their courses, we want to disseminate the materials we have developed as the basis for a whole course or a unit in a course to see much wider use," said Allen, holder of the Melvin H. Gertz Regents Chair in Chemical Engineering in Austin.

Center faculty, who have about 10 years of experience developing such educational material, will also lead workshops in their home cities to improve engineering colleagues' abilities to address sustainable environment topics. The first workshops will be held July 17-19, 2006 and July 19-21, 2006 at Carnegie Mellon.
For more on the Engineer's for a Sustainable World national conference, go to:

University of Texas at Austin

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