Service Learning
A teaching tool connecting community and classroom

Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering - Engineering in Society

Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering - Engineering in Society

Course Director: Professor Sean Leen (established by Professor Abhay Pandit)
Course Title: BE in Mechanical Engineering/BE in Biomedical Engineering
Subject: CAIRDE - Engineering in Society, Ethics and Community Outreach
Year: 3rd Year
Participants: 70 Students
Lectures 18 hours, Tutorials 8 hours, 16 hours Service
Credits: 6 Ects
Length: 2 Semesters
Community Partners: Students take responsibility in initiating community partnership

Internationally, CAIRDE is a pioneer programme for service learning amongst engineering students in and has been recognised internationally as being an exceptional student community engagement initiative by being awarded the MacJannet Prize awarded by the Talloires Network in 2010.

The Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering degree at NUI Galway has a service learning module incorporated into its programme, giving students experiential learning while applying academic knowledge. CAIRDE, Community Awareness Initiatives Responsibility-Directed by Engineers, was designed as a way for students to identify a need in their community and define a project with very distinct goals. Since the programme's inception, over 600 students have taken part in service learning projects, devoting over 8000 hours of service to local communities. The students have made tremendous strides in taking an active role in society and have gained strong relationships with their community partners. CAIRDE has enabled students to build a link between the university and community, showing how collaboration between the two can yield positive results that are reciprocally beneficial.

Students of the CAIRDE programme are expected to take on a great deal of responsibility in the facilitation of their service learning project. They must develop a project that enables them to utilise their engineering skills in order to address a real need for an individual or group in the broader community. By putting this knowledge into action, students work directly with the beneficiaries of the project, ensuring their needs are met through the work conducted. Projects vary in terms of the beneficiaries and type of work students engage in. Some may work with established organizations such as Enable Ireland, Saint Vincent de Paul, The Simon Community, National Council for the Blind Ireland and youth cafes. Others direct their efforts towards supporting local schools, nursing homes, hospitals, libraries, playgrounds and athletic clubs. Some students choose to address the needs of a specific individual by either contributing to personal care or improving one's quality of life. The success of these projects has gained CAIRDE such great recognition that the number of community organisations wishing to collaborate with the program continues to increase.

CAIRDE demonstrates the value of service learning, as it requires student participants to use and develop "soft skills" that are invaluable to engineers but often difficult to teach in a traditional classroom setting. These "soft skills" include project management, task analysis and interpersonal skills as well as practicing shared decision-making and being able to reflect on their learning and experiences.

Additionally, the students are able to apply knowledge to a specific, "real" project for the first time, helping them view their academic preparation in a new light. All the while, CAIRDE is fostering a greater understanding of community needs and what methods can be taken to address these needs.

CAIRDE places great emphasis on how the students understand their impact on society. Therefore, reflection plays a central role to the service learning process. In the reflection process, students tie in what they are learning about the community as well as how they can further develop their engineering skills. Students share this reflection with the greater educational community, building awareness and demonstrating to their peers how university students can make a difference in their surrounding communities.

The following recently published articled describes the programme in greater detail:

Wallen, M and Pandit, A (2009), "Encouraging undergraduate engineering students towards civic engagement", European Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 141-8.