Integrating Ecology into the Environmental Engineering Curriculum – The Importance of Engagement
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CONTEXT Griffith University, Faculty of Environmental Sciences offered the first Bachelor in Environmental Engineering in Australia in 1991. This multidisciplinary program integrated science and engineering. The goal to produce graduate engineers who could solve environmental problems such as air and water pollution, contaminated land, solid waste by using their science knowledge and skills in engineering design. Ecology is a fundamental science and an understanding of ecological systems and processes is paramount to sustainably solving many environmental problems eg constructed wetland ecotechnologies. Thus it was essential that the Environmental Engineering curriculum incorporated ecology. PURPOSE The challenge was to integrate the discipline of ecology into the Environmental Engineering curriculum and in a way that would be relevant and engaging for the students. This required discussions with ecological staff and engineering partitioners. Fortunately I was appointed to that role having worked for 6 years in professional practice with a firm of consulting engineers. DESIGN/APPROACH Learning from Nature and the relevance of ecological concepts and principles to engineering students must be made apparent from first year through to fourth year. It was recognised that there should be a core course in Environmental Microbiology to provide the fundamentals of ecological processes that could then be applied to courses in wastewater, remediation of contaminated soils, wetlands for water pollution control. The challenge was to make this core course relevant and engaging. OUTCOMES/RESULTS The application of ecological processes to real world applications combined with weekly practical laboratories including a field trip really engaged the students. By integrating my own experiences in professional practice, I was able to effectively engage the students by demonstrating the importance of ecological concepts to engineering applications and management. CONCLUSIONS An understanding of ecological processes is essential to an environmental engineer, however in order to get students to appreciate the value of ecology, the application to real world examples must be demonstrated. This can be achieved by sharing research and industry experiences and by designing practical labs and field trips that engage students.
Proceedings of the 25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education
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