Building environmental consciousness

Nov 25, 2005

A National Science Foundation grant of $100,000 helps Kettering teach students about the importance of remaining environmentally conscious in the engineering and manufacturing process.

To the untrained ear, the news reports are ominous: hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico may be stronger due to global warming; the polar ice shelves are melting at a much swifter pace than scientists believed possible; attempts to marshal emissions from industrial facilities are making little headway in curbing environmental degradation.

Are these really symptoms of an environment corrupted by man-made emissions?

According to leading scientists, the answer to this question is a resounding yes. In fact, the G8 Joint Academies issued a recent statement that points directly to human activity as the major reason for increased global warming over the last century. Research also shows that awareness of environmental issues during the engineering development of a product could prove helpful in lessening the impact on the environment. Additionally, media reports do not do enough to describe the efforts by institutions like Kettering University to build awareness among budding engineering and science students regarding the impact of product lifecycles on the environment. According to analysts, institutions need to help students understand the importance of developing sustainable technology that has limited impact on the environment.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently granted a team of researchers from Kettering and other organizations an important three-year grant of $100,000 to develop a course that instructs students about environmental awareness during the engineering development process for products and processes. The Kettering Industrial Ecology Team (KIET) will establish a multi-disciplinary course to give students the economic, managerial, ethical, scientific and engineering skills necessary to critically examine environmental issues in product design and manufacturing, and develop solutions to these issues. Ultimately, the group expects to establish and use proven, innovative pedagogical methods and tools to produce graduates capable of effectively incorporating environmental concerns into technical design and economic decisions regarding the lifecycle of products.

Dr. Terri Lynch-Caris, an assistant professor of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, member of KIET, and co-investigator with Trevor Harding on the NSF grant, said that grant funds will support the many course development costs, including an outside evaluator to assess the course, travel expenses for the advisory board, publication costs associated with the KIET Newsletter and other dissemination materials. "We have many sets of eyes on the development of this course and we're taking steps to ensure that this course is not developed in isolation," Caris explained. "The course will be taught using a team approach and involve hands-on learning," she added.

Caris also noted that part of the NSF grant supports outreach to K-12 schools, with primary focus on minority and female high school students. "Studies show that females are drawn to engineering-related disciplines at the university level when they can have an impact on the betterment of life," Caris said. One hope she has for the course is to teach students the technical, economical and environmental issues related to the design of products. Other goals include supporting a lecture series with experts in the field who can come to campus and speak to students about this subject. Dr. Claudia Duranceau, senior research scientist for Emissions Control and Recycling Planning at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., visited campus in late July to lecture on the importance of environmental consciousness during the lifecycle of a product. Dozens of students filled Room A of the Campus Center for this lecture, thus suggesting that student interest is great. In addition, Bruce Coventry '75, president of the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance at DaimlerChrysler Corporation, visited campus in November to discus how his company is becoming clean, green and lean. Dozens of students filled the lunch time lecture and survey data is overwhelmingly positive in support of environmental interest.

Trevor Harding, associate professor of Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering and a principal investigator on the NSF grant, believes this effort will help break down silos and create a strong team ethic as faculty look at this issue from many perspectives. "This is one of a few NSF interdisciplinary grants awarded to Kettering in recent years," he said, adding, "this really presents a unique opportunity for Kettering, students and our corporate partners, many of whom are looking into how they can develop products while limiting the impact of that development on the environment."

Corporate supporters of this endeavor applaud the KIET group for their initiative. For example, Paul J. Poledink, program development manager for the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, said that "students who complete their studies with the enlightened awareness, knowledge and skills in this arena will certainly come better prepared to function in companies such as Ford, companies which are responsibly meeting product design and manufacturing issues."

Gabe Wing, a chemical engineer with Herman Miller Inc. based in Zeeland, Mich., noted that this course "will provide potential co-op students and future full-time engineers with the necessary foundational knowledge in sustainable design and manufacturing to quickly add value to our organization. Providing entry-level engineers with these skills will benefit all future employers of these students as we strive for a more sustainable future."

KIET will hold its second annual advisory board meeting to review the progress on the group's NSF-sponsored project at the Ford World Headquarters Dec. 14. This meeting will include presentations from the group's industrial and academic partners, discussions on the NSF project, a tour of Ford facilities and time for open discussion among attendees and board members.

For more information, contact Dr. Trevor Harding at (810)762-9811, or click on this link.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538

Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering Department's IME 540: Environmentally Conscious Design and Manufacturing will adapt an approach developed by Ford Motor Company's Partnership for Advanced Studies (PAS) Module 5: Closing the Environmental Loop. This module helps students study how industry is changing in response to today's environmental problems and learn about a range of incentives for reducing the environmental impact of products and processes. Module 5 instructs students on the use of data for monitoring progress toward environmental goals. Kettering will offer this class as an elective beginning in January 2007 for all senior undergraduate and graduate student. A precursor to this module conducted by Ford in the 1990s reached more than 70 high schools and proved to be very successful.