Significant research has shown the positive benefit of service and community-based learning on student diversity, engagement, and retention. Elements of service-learning have been incorporated across disciplines into traditional classes as well as capstone experiences. While providing significant benefits, challenges also exist in managing relationships with external clients, finding administrative support for these experiences, and engaging students in more open-ended projects.
Recognizing these benefits, new capstone projects have been introduced at our mid-sized mid- Atlantic college over the last two years that focus on community outreach and service. These projects include a community bike rental station, an automated greenhouse for a K-8 school, and assistive technologies for employees with disabilities. These new projects exist along with “traditional” competition-based capstone projects such as Formula FSAE.
Given these two classes of multidisciplinary capstone projects, we examine the experiences of the students, faculty, and community partners during the transition to new service-learning capstone projects. Specifically, we report on interviews conducted: (1) with faculty to understand their administrative and instructional challenges in adding service-based capstone projects, (2) with community-partners and their perceptions of working with the college, and (3) with students to understand the differences in student experience and between traditional competition and new capstone projects. We believe that our experiences can provide a guide for other institutions to manage the transition to service-based capstone projects in their curriculum.