Investigating the Benefits of Group Model Building Using System Dynamics for EngineersWithout Borders Students

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Conference Proceeding


More than ever, future engineering students will need improved tools to more holistically understand the complexities inherent in planning, implementing, and managing, healthy and sustainable development projects. Programs such as Engineers without Borders (EWB) have always had the objective of teaching systems thinking skills to address the complex systemic community issues inherent in international infrastructure development; however, methodologies used to foster systems thinking have historically remained implicit, and have primarily focused on reductionist approaches to project assessment, design, and evaluation. Group Model Building (GMB) using System Dynamics modeling has been successfully used for years in multiple fields to foster and grow understanding on a complex topic using the combined insight from multiple stakeholders to build informative qualitative diagrams and quantitative simulations. However, this tool has not been used in the context of engineering education, specifically focused on sustainable community development. This study proposes GMB as a tool for EWB students interested in community development engineering to more aptly grapple with the complex issues they will invariably face in their projects abroad and in their careers. The aims of this study were to introduce GMB to a group of EWB students and to explore how the exercise improved their understanding of systemic interaction of factors that influence the sustainability of their projects. This paper discusses the process used to introduce GMB to the students and their reactions throughout and after the process. Based on the students’ growth in understanding of the factors and complexities in their project, we believe that this research provides valuable evidence and support for the future use of GMB as a tool for applying systems thinking in international infrastructure development projects.

Publication Title

2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

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