Investigating Student Perceptions of Engineering Judgment through Experiential Learning

Ryan Carkin, Victoria Bennett, Yevgeniya V. Zastavker, Abigail Snyder, Alyssa Richtarek, Casper Harteveld, Tarek Abdoun

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


As a result of the increasingly complex and interconnected problems facing the world, civil (and all) engineers entering the workforce require a more mature sense of engineering judgment at an early stage in their career. The world can no longer afford to wait 15 years for engineers, civil especially, to reach their prime decision-making ability. At the same time, and likely for the same reasons, ABET-aware faculty are grappling with how to develop and assess engineering judgment at the undergraduate level. The goal of our project is to develop and implement various learning strategies and instructional tools to improve student outcomes related to engineering judgment. To begin to address this, a second-year cohort of civil engineering students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a medium-sized R1 institution which has been producing prominent engineers such as Ralph Peck since the early 19th century, participated in several activities in a required geotechnical engineering course aimed at assessing student understanding of engineering judgment. Open coding qualitative analysis was performed on gathered student definitions of engineering judgment to identify themes within student responses prior to undergoing a design project. Subsequent student submissions to the design project were qualitatively analyzed for employment of these themes within their prepared solutions. Findings suggest that while students included certain subskills in their definitions of engineering judgment, they struggled to demonstrate them within their design submissions. Additionally, analysis of reflection prompts after completion of the design project indicated that students prefer application-based problems to traditional theoretical problem solving. This creates tension with another emerging theme from the reflection prompts: students wished they had more guidance for the open-ended design project. The general nature of application-based design problems, and ultimately experiential learning, is that the learner has limited guidance to fully allow for the individual exploration of the solution space. This work-in-progress paper briefly addresses this tension in student responses, while focusing on the evolution of engineering judgment development in second-year civil engineering students over the course of eight weeks during a required introductory civil engineering course.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGeotechnical Special Publication
EditorsT. Matthew Evans, Nina Stark, Susan Chang
PublisherAmerican Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
Number of pages8
EditionGSP 353
ISBN (Electronic)9780784485309, 9780784485316, 9780784485323, 9780784485330, 9780784485347, 9780784485354
StatePublished - 2024
EventGeo-Congress 2024: Geotechnical Systems - Vancouver, Canada
Duration: Feb 25 2024Feb 28 2024

Publication series

NameGeotechnical Special Publication
NumberGSP 353
ISSN (Print)0895-0563


ConferenceGeo-Congress 2024: Geotechnical Systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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