Challenges and Opportunities in International Service Learning
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Description: Service learning, and specifically the work of organizations such as Engineers Without Borders USA, have become popular with universities looking to provide their students with applied educational opportunities which blend technical skills with a broader social mission and help the institution demonstrate its global impact. However, questions remain regarding the truly realized outcomes for students, as well as the unintended consequences that may be experienced by the partnering communities. This paper describes early results results from a four-year, mixed-method study which collected data through a combination of interviews and focus groups with members of the Engineers Without Borders USA organization, analysis and coding of completed project documentation, and observations and notes collected during a field visit to a project site. We conclude from our early data that students who are able (given sufficient resources) to fully participate in these type of projects do see positive benefits. However, barriers may prevent all students from having this opportunity. Further, the nature of student service learning projects inherently creates challenges for the communities that partner on these projects. Ongoing revisions to the Engineers Without Borders USA operating procedures may remedy some of the deficiencies, while researchers, participants, and institutions should continue to critically evaluate the impacts and outcomes of their work.