Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Engineering (HMC)

Publication Date



A collaborative, community-based design project was implemented in the upper-division undergraduate technical elective Introduction to Environmental Engineering at Harvey Mudd College. Students worked with multiple stakeholders in order to design a debris flow barrier for a wilderness land parcel acquired by a local conservancy group. The Rosemont Preserve is a wilderness area preserved in 2012 by the Arroyos and Foothills Conservancy.

The Conservancy is working to steward the land and to produce programs for the local community. The ecological resource is co-managed by LA County Public Works. After the 2009 brushfires, the County installed concrete K-Rail barriers to protect residential areas from potential debris flows from fire-denuded hillsides. As part of the wilderness land preservation, the Conservancy is interested in the design of a more-aesthetically pleasing debris flow barrier for the Rosemont Preserve. The conservancy board of directors served as liaisons for the design project, provided background material and the project statement to the student team, as well as answered questions and provided guidance during the design process. Local residents (serving as volunteers for the Conservancy) also served as resources for student questions. LA County Public Works oversees the placement, maintenance, and removal of K-Rails. The student team characterized the wilderness site; acquired relevant GIS data; studied the physics of debris flow and examined previous debris flow barrier designs. The team produced alternative designs for the barrier and chose the best design by applying design metrics. The alternative designs and rationale for the chosen design were presented to the board of directors of the Conservancy.

The design project included a significant tie to a community involved with stewarding and managing an ecological resource, and engagement of the students with that local community. Most importantly, the resource was co-managed: it involved multiple stakeholders, sharing power and collaboratively engaging in the decision-making process for the ecological resource. Co-managed projects can provide opportunities for a richer, more complex educational experience for undergraduate students, and one that is representative of how natural resources are currently being managed.

This paper summarizes previous community-engagement learning, particularly in the context of undergraduate engineering education; argues that co-managed ecological resources provide good opportunities for increased student engagement with communities; describes an undergraduate engineering design project involving a co-managed resource; and presents assessment data on the educational effectiveness of the design process while working with a co-managed resource.

In conclusion, the co-managed project provided richer and increased communication between the multiple stakeholders. However, some students expressed frustration with the difficulties of getting a good communication flow with particular stakeholders, and pointed out how this changed their approach to certain aspects of the design process. For future co-managed projects, it is recommended that more work be done beforehand to get all stakeholders on board in order to improve the student experience.

Rights Information

© 2013 American Society for Engineering Education