Engineering and Computer Science Faculty Publications

Providing Engineering Students with Culturally-Appropriate Immersion Design Experiences in Developing Countries

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Journal Title

ASEE North Central Section Conference 2008


Academic institutions are encouraged to instill "the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context." This paper summarizes the structural, planning, and logistical aspects of offering senior-level capstone and underclass extra-curricular design projects targeted for developing countries. These projects engage the students in year-long design and fabrication, and culminate in taking students to foreign soil for delivery and installation. The necessary infrastructure and culture at the academic institution, relationships with appropriate intermediaries, and the role of a receptive national host that needs engineering services are identified. The goal is to continue an on-going collaborative relationship that takes students and faculty abroad annually, who in turn help to identify new projects for future teams. The criteria by which projects are selected and staffed (i.e., academic merit, field need, and student interest) are discussed.

A case study is presented that evaluates our pilot program. The projects that were selected focused on an organization's infrastructure that provides mechanical services (e.g., electric power generation, water, and sanitation) to support a radio station, a hospital, a school and a host of Non Governmental Organizations. Additional projects were focused on needs of rural people. The results of our first team, which traveled to Liberia, West Africa in May 2007 are documented. They successfully installed a student-designed cooling system for diesel-powered generators, built a medical waste incinerator for the hospital, and distributed solar-powered reading lamps to rural dwellers. They also began a new senior capstone project - to improve the water distribution network - by collecting appropriate data and preparing CAD drawings of the facilities.

Overnight trips to remote villages provided engineering students and faculty an opportunity to see how the rural dweller lives. These experiences provided rich insight for the students to see basic needs of people on a new level, and how they might develop engineering solutions which blend into the culture.


Engineering, design, developing countries