Earlier this semester, environmental studies and sustainability students needing water samples for a project at Field Pond at Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover, “hired” a civil engineering class to conduct a series of tests on the water. Separately, a senior civil engineering environmental design course that needed assistance with specific tasks reached out to three separate classes — an ecology class to conduct macroinvertebrate sampling, an electrical engineering class to design and develop a water-quality monitoring device and a STEM education class to complete water-quality measurements.
This type of project is gaining traction. In support of this initiative, a cohort of Merrimack faculty members has adapted the concept of project-based learning to include collaboration between different courses and even across disciplines. The results of this approach are clear: students have learned how to craft technical documents and coordinate schedules, received needed assistance while collaborating with other disciplines, gained hands-on experience and simulated the experience of working in the role of “client” or “employer.”
Beyond the campus community, Merrimack students have also been recruited to help external organizations. Last spring, the Andover Conservation Commission approached faculty members with two projects for which they wanted to “hire” Merrimack students: monitoring dam removal on the Shawsheen River, and monitoring pond water quality at Field Pond. While gaining invaluable experience, the students conducted important research and provided the commission with data points to use when making decisions.
“Modeling class as a small engineering firm allows students to get hands-on, real-world experience. This is actual client interaction, much like what they will be doing after graduation,” said Cynthia Carlson, assistant professor of civil engineering, who spearheaded the class hiring initiative. “It also presents the opportunity for the college to build stronger relationships with public, nonprofit and corporate entities.”