Engineering design, project management, and community service connected through servant leadership

  • Engineer Inc.
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Servant-Leadership is a leadership paradigm that emphasizes power sharing in decision making processes. It also encourages leaders to serve those they manage by propelling them toward high achievement while promoting their professional growth and self-efficacy. Servant-Leadership is also being pioneered as a teaching pedagogy at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, an approach that is unique because most academic institutions subscribe instead to the service-learning model. In conventional academic settings, instructors are the authority figures with control over content, knowledge, assessment, and course outcomes. By contrast, servant-leadership places instructors at the bottom of an inverted power pyramid where they provide a supportive foundation for the students above them. The authors hypothesize that this supportive structure lends itself ideally to faculty mentorship of engineering design-and-build projects; for example capstone senior design projects. In well-managed student projects, faculty members do none of the actual design or construction work. Instead, they mentor a team of students toward successful completion of the challenge. To evaluate the impact of a servant-leadership teaching pedagogy in an engineering setting, an interdisciplinary faculty collaboration was implemented that combined three components: 1) a curriculum-integrated design-and-build project; 2) an industrial engineering project management course; and 3) sponsored service to the community. Service is attractive to college-age people who value global citizenship and stewardship; community projects draw civic-minded perspective students and are highly valued in promoting student recruiting. Within one faculty member's quarter-long senior-level mechanical engineering thermodynamics course, students designed, built, tested, and deployed three miniature aquaponic demonstration units for the Sweet Water Foundation (SWF), a Milwaukee-based non-profit organization. The SWF mission is to teach the public about sustainable urban agriculture. The project's mechanical engineering (ME) students were supported by students taking an industrial engineering (IE) project management course from a different faculty member. IE students served as project managers. Simultaneously, a third faculty member, expert in implementing servant-leadership as a teaching pedagogy, secured project funding from the Brady Foundation while guiding the course instructors in mentoring students as servant-leaders. We report qualitative results from this interdisciplinary project guided by servant-leadership. Instructors report best practices learned by mentoring their engineering students through successful project completion using a servant-leadership teaching pedagogy. We also present and analyze survey data compiled from student participants in the university-wide servant-leadership community to quantify the positive impacts on our institution's culture enabled through community service and faculty mentoring projects using the servant-leadership pedagogy.

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... Entering into service-learning design projects, instructors may want to consider servant-leadership as a framework for their teaching and as a model for students to consider when they engage with communities [32]. Design instructors will have a role as a "guide on the side", with a mindset of mentoring or serving both their students and the community partner, and being mentored and served by these constituents. ...
... Design instructors will have a role as a "guide on the side", with a mindset of mentoring or serving both their students and the community partner, and being mentored and served by these constituents. A case study of this approach was a service-learning project in a senior thermodynamics course at the Milwaukee School of Engineering [32]. The LSU Community Playground Project, which is affiliated with a first-year engineering design course, required the service-learning instructor to develop a servant leadership approach to be successful; the evolution from becoming a "traditional" engineering educator to a servant leader engineering educator is described in [33]. ...
... Such considerations ensure that a design effectively serves the community, instead of being dumped on the community. Student resistance to participating in service-learning classes is also possible [32]; explicitly and repeatedly connecting the service activities to the learning objectives in class allays most student concerns. Finally, communication can be an issue, particularly where media is concerned. ...
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Applying the principles, values, and practices of Servant Leadership to teaching can make a profound difference on the impact of learning and in the learning experience of both students and teachers. Ten key attributes of Servant Leadership are defined and explained, and translated to the education context, introducing the notion of the “Servant Teacher.” The paper compares and contrasts the more typical / traditional lecture and course format with one that embodies servant teaching. It is argued that the more conventional education approaches reinforce the “teacher-student” status quo. Continuing to teach in ways that replicate command and control, hierarchy, and power disparities that promote dependence, compliance, and passivity rather than autonomy are antithetical and counterproductive in a time when flexibility, initiative, responsibility, ownership, self-direction, creativity, empowerment, and teamwork and collaboration are more essential than ever.
This article presents one educator's philosophic answer to the question “Why am I teaching?” During the course of this article, principles of servant teachership are presented. In addition, some teaching approaches used by the author are presented.
Service-learning is a form of experiential education in which students apply the knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to carry out projects that meet a human or community need Service-learning has been integrated into an 'Introduction to Mechanical Engineering' course to enhance learning of first-year engineering students and to meet the need for more resources in local middle-schools to promote active, hands-on learning of mathematics and science. Student assessment results over a three-year period demonstrate that service-learning is an effective strategy for first-year mechanical engineering students to learn and practice engineering design and teamwork, and to become aware of civic responsibility. Service-learning provides engineering students the opportunity and motivation to develop the 'softer' skills described in Engineering Criteria 2000 and complements the traditional approach to design projects, in which students interact primarily with technical personnel.
Student assessment of technical skills in engineering and engineering technology is relatively straightforward. Problems typically have right or wrong answers, and assessing students' ability to effectively solve problems, design systems and evaluate designs can be quantitatively measured. Assessing non-technical skills (sometimes called 'soft skills') such as the ability to function in teams, communicate effectively or understand ethical responsibilities [1] can be a challenge for faculty in engineering or engineering technology as these more qualitative characteristics don't necessarily involve right and wrong answers. These characteristics have traditionally been measured by engineering technology faculty the same way they are evaluated in the workplace: 'I know it when I see it'. While this method may lead to a letter grade ('That presentation was pretty good— I'll give it a B'), this is not truly assessing the student, the presentation or the degree program. Meaningful assessment of the student or of the presentation should include constructive feedback, and assessment of the degree program should include qualitative measurement of the necessary characteristics of a good presentation. Good assessment practices also recommend that data be 'triangulated', or measured in more than one way. The assessment plan for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology programs at IUPUI include the development and use of rubrics for assessment of student performance and to supply meaningful and consistent feedback to students.
  • E Tsang
  • J Van Haneghan
  • B Johnson
  • E J Newman
  • S Van Eck
E. Tsang, J. Van Haneghan, B. Johnson, E. J. Newman, S. Van Eck, "A Report on ServiceLearning and Engineering Design: Service-Learning's Effect on Students Learning Engineering Design in 'Introduction to Mechanical Engineering'," International Journal of Engineering Education, Volume 17, Number 1, 2001, pp. 30-39.
Yearly Report for: Suzanne and Richard Pieper Family Foundation, LTD
  • D Howell
D. Howell, "Yearly Report for: Suzanne and Richard Pieper Family Foundation, LTD.," Milwaukee School of Engineering Office of Servant Leadership, December 21, 2012, url: (accessed 4/1/2013).