A monthly letter from President Martin C. Jischke
One of the happy by-products of higher education is that people with college degrees tend to become more involved in public service. They are more likely to take on civic responsibilities and to lead or contribute to charitable efforts. At Purdue, we try to encourage this tendency by integrating whenever possible public service with our students' academic pursuits.
Service-learning opportunities allow our students to help others and improve communities, and the effort also can provide practical, real-world experience that enhances education. At the same time, service-learning gives young people an appreciation of the great satisfaction that comes from using their talents to make life better for others.
There are many examples of these kinds of activities at Purdue, but one of the most remarkable is Engineering Projects in Community Service. Begun at Purdue in 1995, EPICS has become a national movement with chapters at 15 universities throughout the country. Last month five more institutions established programs.
The newest members are Columbia University, San Jose State University, the University of California-San Diego, the University of California-Merced and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
In EPICS, teams of undergraduates earn academic credit for multiyear, multidisciplinary projects that solve engineering- and technology-based problems for community service and education organizations. Teams are made up of 10-20 students ranging from freshmen to seniors studying engineering disciplines and other fields that can include communication, computer science, management and child development.
The director of Purdue's program is Leah H. Jamieson, the Ransburg Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and associate dean of engineering for undergraduate education. Here's what Leah said recently about EPICS:
"Educators have increasingly realized the importance of developing not just good engineers, but also good citizens. While giving students the opportunity for extensive design work, we can also show them needs that exist and the impact their work can have on their communities. I hope that each of our EPICS students takes a sense of responsibility to service with them when they leave their universities."
In 1995, Dr. Jamieson and Edward J. Coyle, also a professor of electrical and computer engineering, established EPICS as the nation's first engineering service-learning program built around long-term university and community partnerships. Coyle now serves as Purdue's assistant vice president for research in computing and communication.
Purdue's EPICS teams work with community groups in four major areas: human services, access and abilities, education, and the environment. Project goals have included homeless prevention, environmental protection, and the creation of toys and adaptive devices for children with disabilities. Other universities emphasize the types of projects that are most appropriate for their communities.
The most recent expansion of EPICS is funded in part by a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to Purdue last year. Purdue will provide a portion of those funds to the new members to supplement the cost of their programs for four years. The five new universities were chosen through a competitive process similar to that used by the NSF.
EPICS is an example of a wonderful idea that blossomed into a major national initiative. It has the potential to affect the way we educate future engineers, and it already is allowing students to make life better for others while improving their own skills. It's only one example of service-learning initiatives at Purdue, but it's one of which we are very proud.
At the end of June, one of Purdue's most effective administrators will retire from his full-time duties. Don Gentry has made great contributions to our state as vice provost for engagement. Don earlier served as director of Purdue Statewide Technology and then as dean of the School of Technology, firmly establishing the school as both the largest and the best in the country. Fortunately, Don will continue to handle some special assignments on a part-time basis, but now is the time to thank him for a brilliant career that made Purdue a better university.