Community service agencies face a future in which they must take advantage of technology to improve, coordinate, account for, and deliver the services they provide. They need the help of people with strong technical backgrounds. Undergraduate students face a future in which they will need more than solid expertise in their discipline to succeed. They will be expected to work with people of many different backgrounds to identify and achieve goals. They need educational experiences that can help them broaden their skills.
The challenge is to bring these two groups together in a mutually beneficial way.
In response to this challenge, Purdue University has created EPICS: Engineering Projects In Community Service.
The end result? Benefits to the students and to the community!
EPICS is a unique program in which teams of undergraduates are designing, building, and deploying real systems to solve engineering-based problems for local community service and education organizations. EPICS was founded at Purdue University in Fall 1995.
In the 2003-2004 academic year, over 400 Purdue students from 20 different departments participated on 25 multidisciplinary teams. Over 2000 Purdue students have participated in EPICS to date.
Each team has a multi-year partnership with a community service or education organization. Projects are in four broad areas: human services, access and abilities, education and outreach, and the environment. Purdue EPICS teams have delivered over 150 projects to their community partners.
Each team of 8 to 18 students includes freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Teams are advised by Purdue faculty, staff, and engineers from local industry, along with graduate teaching assistants. Students earn 1 or 2 academic credits each semester and may register for up to four years. Projects may last several years, so tasks of significant size and impact can be tackled.
Fulfilling Mutual Needs
EPICS students gain long-term define-design-build-test-deploy-support experience, communication skills, experience on multidisciplinary teams, and leadership and project management skills. They gain an awareness of professional ethics, the role of the customer in engineering design, and the role that engineering can play in the community. Community organizations gain access to technology and expertise that would normally be prohibitively expensive, giving them the potential to improve their quality of service or to provide new services. In partnership with Purdue’s Discovery Park, the EPICS Entrepreneurship Initiative helps students and community partners explore entrepreneurship opportunities growing out of EPICS projects.
The National EPICS Program
Purdue’s EPICS program is the national model in engineering for marrying learning and engagement. With support from the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service plus Microsoft Research, Hewlett-Packard, and National Instruments, EPICS programs are operating at 20 universities. Over 1350 students participated on 140 teams in 2003-04. Peer teams at multiple EPICS sites are collaborating to address community problems of national scope. Purdue is headquarters for the National EPICS Program.
Awards and Recognition
EPICS has received major awards from the Carnegie Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Society for Engineering Education, the IEEE Education Society, Campus Compact, the Corporate and Foundation Alliance, Purdue University, and the Governor and Legislature of Indiana. It was featured in the PBS series Communities Building Community. EPICS has been supported by over $5.1M in federal grants and over $5.5M in corporate and alumni gifts.