Engineering 183: Engineering Sustainable Design and Construction

June 1, 2007
David Schaad

Megan Morr

Junior John Crowell is standing at the front of a Hudson Hall classroom, fielding questions from his classmates about the water catchment his team is designing to harvest rainfall for a girls' school in Muhuru Bay, Kenya. "Apparently from what I've read, the water tastes better because the calcium is released from the cement," Crowell explains.

What size tanks are you using? a student asks. "15,000 gallons." Will the PVC pipe weaken in the sunlight? How are you going to transport the PVC to Kenya? Crowell answers the questions, deftly switching back and forth from PowerPoint slides to sketches of the filters his team has designed to prevent leaves from entering the tanks.

Crowell's catchment system is just one of several engineering solutions being developed in David Schaad's "Engineering Sustainable Design and Construction" course. Early on, Schaad's students separated into groups that would spend the rest of the semester developing sustainable systems, including a human-powered water aerator for shrimp farms in Indonesia and portable shelters for people who lose their homes in natural disasters.

All of the projects were entered in a national design competition sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency's P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) Competition; the water aerator for shrimp farms received an honorable mention.

Schaad Ph.D. '98, an adjunct assistant professor and assistant chair of civil engineering, spent years leading similar projects in the private sector. Since returning to teaching in 2003, he has joined students on trips to design and install engineering solutions in Uganda and tsunami-wracked Indonesia, and, over spring break last year, he led a group of some 150 students to New Orleans to work for Habitat for Humanity.

Schaad's course is a perfect reflection of his personality—entrepreneurial, practical, and service oriented. Until his students worked on them, no one had developed the portable shelters, he points out, even though "there's absolutely a need" for them.

"That makes [the students' work] broader and harder, because, as an undergraduate, you're basically generating new knowledge," he says.

Schaad's EGR 183 students—roughly half of whom signed up for his class after traveling to New Orleans with him last year—say his enthusiasm is contagious. "I'm worried about my grades in other classes because all I can think about now is designing the trailer," says sophomore Nick Millar. "Real-life classes are much more fun than any textbook."

Professor
David Schaad earned a B.A. degree in physics and mathematical sciences from Denison University in 1990, and received his M.S. in civil engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1991. He then spent several years as a civil engineer before entering the graduate civil-engineering program at Duke. In 2003, after working as an engineer for five more years, Schaad joined the Duke faculty full time.

Prerequisites
None

Readings
None

Assignments
Identify an engineering problem, conduct community-based research
Create a conceptual design of the engineering solution
Refine conceptual design to create preliminary and final designs
Build, test, and analyze prototype
Final class presentation
Enter the P3 competition in Washington
Write critical reflections about the learning process