Service Learning for Sustainability: A Tale of Two Projects

Annie Pearce and Will Manion

Service learning is a mechanism used in engineering and construction curricula as a means of engaging students in interesting and complex problems that benefit the community while providing an opportunity to develop competencies that will be essential in professional practice. Such projects are particularly effective in exposing students to issues otherwise difficult to teach in a classroom setting, including critical resource constraints and tactics to overcome them, tradeoffs among possible solution alternatives, integration of systems, and the human and organizational challenges of design and implementation. However, the risks and challenges involved in integrating these projects within classes and managing student involvement lead them to be underutilized in many curricula.


This paper describes experiences with two separate community-based service learning projects undertaken as part of a joint undergraduate-graduate class on sustainable facility systems at Virginia Tech. While projects were initially designed to be of similar scope and difficulty, the outcomes were dramatically different from a project management and implementation standpoint, and learning outcomes for students were also different. Lessons learned are presented for the benefit of others considering expanded service learning as part of coursework on sustainability in engineering and construction curricula.



DSC_0109-Edit_MEDr. Annie Pearce is an Associate Professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech specializing in sustainable facilities and infrastructure systems. Throughout her career, Annie has worked with practitioners in both public and private sectors to implement sustainability as part of building planning, design, construction, and operations. As a LEED Accredited Professional, Annie brings the latest in green building methods, technologies, and best practices to the classroom. Her specific areas of interest include metrics of sustainability for built facilities, green building materials and systems, cost modeling to support sustainability implementation, and in situ performance of sustainable facility technologies.