New Jonsson School Program Designs Projects That Serve Community
Yasmine Meliane (left), with fellow biomedical engineering junior Gabrielle Truong, holds a kitten at the Richardson Animal Shelter. The two are part of an EPICS team that is working to develop a device that will feed and comfort young kittens that do not have a mother.
A new program in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science provides students with an opportunity to get project experience while also helping various nonprofit organizations.
Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) began last spring at UT Dallas and has spurred projects that benefit nonprofit organizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
EPICS is a service-learning design program in which teams of students partner with community organizations to address human, community and environmental needs. The program started at Purdue University in 1995 and has spread to a number of universities across the United States.
“The chance to work on projects that benefit the community is very appealing to many students,” said Dr. Nicholas Gans, EPICS faculty mentor and clinical associate professor in electrical engineering. “That’s one of the top reasons that many of the students are in the course. They like the curriculum, but the community impact is important.”
Previously, most engineering and computer science students had to wait until their senior year to work on a design project — through the UTDesign program. EPICS allows students to work on such projects earlier in their college career.
“We wanted to create something that would expose them to these project-based classes that feature a heavy design-process curriculum, as well as a focus on working in teams,” Gans said.
“The chance to work on projects that benefit the community is very appealing to many students. That’s one of the top reasons that many of the students are in the course. They like the curriculum, but the community impact is important.”
Jason Waye, a sophomore electrical engineering major, participated in the first semester of EPICS at UT Dallas last spring. He was pleased that it introduced underclassmen to the design process, years before they use it in the senior design capstone course.
“It gives students the opportunity to take skills learned in the EPICS classes and apply them to an actual project. It’s great for students,” Waye said.
Andrea Turcatti, EPICS coordinator, said the program is a “win-win situation” for the nonprofit organizations and the students.
“The main goal is for students to build a relationship with their community partner, where they really get a clear understanding of what the client needs and the issues they are facing,” Turcatti said. “The students have to really get immersed on what the client needs, empathize with the issues they have to solve.”
Gans said he stresses to teams the need to deliberately proceed through the steps of the design process.
“They need to meet with their nonprofit group and spend a lot of time with them — to not only understand what they want, but also why they want it and how easy or difficult it is to accomplish,” he said.
EPICS is set up as a one-hour, open elective course. Because the class is graded and students are held to a standard, the students stay focused on the program goals.
Among the nonprofit organizations that have been helped through EPICS are My Possibilities, a program for adults with disabilities, and TexProtects, an organization that provides advocacy, research and education in the area of child abuse.
The TexProtects project, which began in the spring, is intended to bring a myriad of data about child abuse in Texas into a user-friendly database.
“The goal is for advocates and other key stakeholders to have quick, easy access to this data that’s already available,” said Dr. Dana Booker, TexProtects director of research. “They can use it for reporting, applying for grants, or for advocating and educating.”
“Moving into a technological world will only improve our ability to serve and protect those children,” she said.
Funding for EPICS has come from Alliance Data, The Philip Jonsson Foundation and Computer Processing Corporation.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].