sealPurdue News

May 23, 2002

Purdue EPICS conference to unite national service learning teams

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University, home of the first Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program, will play host to the first formal national gathering of schools with established engineering service learning programs and those planning to start them.

The two-day conference, Wednesday and Thursday (5/29-30), will explore national opportunities to wed engineering education with community service activities as part of students' university experience.

"The existence of EPICS programs at several sites around the country has opened the possibility of addressing community and educational needs that extend beyond those of a university and its local community," said William Oakes, assistant professor of freshman engineering and co-director of the EPICS program.

"This conference will provide a forum for faculty from the different EPICS programs to share lessons and insights from their programs. It also will highlight the potential benefits of national-scale community service learning projects pursued by a national-scale EPICS coalition."

Meeting sessions, which will be in Stewart Center, Room 311, will be divided along two tracks.

The first track will address participant schools without EPICS programs that are interested in learning more about EPICS or planning to initiate an EPICS program. The other track will engage representatives from 10 schools that currently operate EPICS programs or those that will have programs for the coming academic year.

Purdue's pioneering EPICS program will serve as a model for schools planning to incorporate engineering service learning into their curricula.

"EPICS allows students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom with community service," Oakes said. "The community benefits because it provides service agencies with assistance in helping the public, and business benefits because the program teaches our students skill sets desired by today's companies."

Oakes said the program teaches students the necessity of teamwork, how to manage and lead large projects, and the need to incorporate skills and knowledge from many different disciplines to solve technical problems.

The conference program will include a community partners' panel featuring representatives from social service agencies and industry.

Other aspects of the program include a student panel featuring undergraduates who work on EPICS projects, a discussion regarding the operation of an EPICS program and a tour of Purdue's EPICS facilities.

The conference also will feature group discussions with EPICS administrators and faculty regarding management and operation of local programs, staffing teams, institutionalizing service learning programs within a university setting and how to fund programs.

Among the national-scale community service projects to be discussed will be the coalition of engineering teams partnering with Habitat for Humanity International. Led by Purdue, the first national partnership was signed Feb. 22 in Americus, Ga., home of the faith-based volunteer housing provider.

In the past, student teams from each university worked separately on projects with community service agencies, such as Habitat for Humanity affiliates in their communities. Now teams from the participating universities will share information through the Web that will help Habitat's efforts.

In addition to Habitat for Humanity, several of the agencies that EPICS teams work with – such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and the YWCA – address problems that are national in scope. United nationally, EPICS project teams working with social service agencies can better address nationwide problems such as homelessness, low-income housing and disaster relief, Oakes said.

EPICS began in 1995 when Edward J. Coyle, professor of electrical and computer engineering and assistant vice president for research in computing and communication, and Leah H. Jamieson, Ransburg professor of electrical and computer engineering, established the first engineering service program at Purdue. The program also was organized to develop socially aware and civic-minded engineering students and to promote experiential, multidisciplinary education to develop students' technical skills to meet community service agencies' needs.

By 1997 EPICS programs were started at the University of Notre Dame and Iowa State University.

Currently the EPICS program teams have more than 500 students participating in 52 project teams at the seven other participating campuses: the University of Notre Dame, Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Georgia Institute of Technology, Penn State University, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Butler University in Indianapolis.

Writer: Grant A. Flora (765) 494-2073, e-mail:

Source: William C. Oakes, (765) 494-3892,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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