International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) (7th : 2015)

Designing for impact : a model of community engagement for sustainable development Jiusto, J. Scott; Vaz, Richard F.


As universities increasingly involve engineering students in sustainable development work through community engagement, challenging questions arise regarding how to effectively serve the interests of both academic and non-academic participants. To date the literature on community engagement strategies such as service learning, project-based learning, and community-based research has had more to say about student experience than about implications for the university more broadly, or – critically – about impacts on community partners and community wellbeing more generally. While the potential for “real world” impact animates student learning and makes engagement meaningful, broader impacts can be hard to conceptualize and assess; arguably the more potentially consequential the impacts, the more they are likely to be mixed and hard to understand. This paper presents a simple model for thinking about community engagement program design and assessment at various scales of impact, across both academic and non-academic communities. We illustrate the model with examples drawn from a program operating in Cape Town, South Africa, where students confront a paradoxical challenge: nowhere are engineering insights and contributions more desperately needed than in the burgeoning urban informal settlements of the developing world that are home to 1/7th of the world’s population, but the sustainable development strategies and cultural assumptions that academics carry with them often come undone in the social, environmental, economic, and institutional maelstrom that typically prevails in these areas. How then, if at all, are we as educators, engineers and/or community development practitioners to engage with students and community partners to advance sustainable development in such environments? How do we plan for and measure program success (of what? for whom?) in a context especially prone to failure of things built and relationships nurtured? How in short do we foster engagement that is thoughtful, collaborative, resourceful, respectful, hopeful, resilient and beneficial to all concerned?

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