Coffee and Engineering Education: Lessons from an Engineering Course on Technology for Coffee Production

Reynolds-Cuéllar, Pedro, Alejandra Villamil-Mejía, and Alexander Freese Bello. "Coffee and Engineering Education: Lessons from an Engineering Course on Technology for Coffee Production." In 2020 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), pp. 1-5. IEEE, 2020.


In recent decades, engineering education within universities in the United States has shifted towards engaging learners through various forms of applied learning. These models provide an opportunity to connect academia with real-world environments. One connection of particular importance is the one linking engineering education and society: how can engineering education connect learning with some of the most pressing global sustainability challenges we currently face?As a result, universities are turning to communities globally in search for opportunities to connect students with sustainability related issues. The appearance of academic offerings including international courses, global exchanges and fellowships abroad among others, are a testament to the efforts within higher institutions to create these bridges. From a scholarly perspective, literature describing these kinds of community-based programs has been on the rise. However, the majority of these programs, and the research surrounding them, are almost exclusively focused on the potential transformation this connection brings to learners, much less on what community-based interaction means for engineering education transformation. This paper is an effort in bridging that gap.The "Technology Design for Coffee Production: A Co-Design Experience", is a community-based course on technology design and engineering offered to an interdisciplinary group of graduate students, primarily from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The course was facilitated directly from within coffee farms in Colombia in collaboration with local groups over the course of a month. We conclude that three principles are promising for future community-based engineering education offerings: 1) community immersion; 2) positioning local community members as learning instructors; 3) thick contextualization of the engineering design process. We discuss how each of these principles is reflected in the curriculum of the course, and how they were implemented.Future work includes further examining lessons and expanding them into other engineering education offerings at MIT including a revised second edition of the course to graduate students from all five schools at MIT.

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