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Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) at Drexel

June 30, 2014

What is EPICS?
EPICS (Engineering Projects In Community Service) is a service learning program that coordinates students and non-profit organizations through academically integrated community service activities with an engineering focus.

History
EPICS was founded at Purdue University in 1995 as a way to provide students with professional skills. There are now approximately 21 partner universities participating. The EPICS model is a service learning, human- centered design program where students integrate to solve community problems using engineering solutions. The EPICS model project consists of a group of students, a faculty advisor and a non-profit community partner. Participants reach out to community service organizations to explore the possibility of working together. For the project to qualify, it must allow students to work collaboratively and must demand that students use technical skills to solve design problems for a community organization.

At Drexel, the outreach has resulted in new College partnerships, including the Dirt Factory, Bartram’s Garden and more. The program is open to freshmen, seniors and Paul Peck Scholars who volunteer to participate as a way to complete course work, while simultaneously helping the community.

EPICS was introduced to Drexel University in 2007 by Dr. Kapil Dandekar, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies and Dr. Adam Fontecchio, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs of the College of Engineering. The program was first established within the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

The first Drexel EPICS program was a simplified version of the original model. In June 2012, Alistar Erickson-Ludwig and Sherry Levin rekindled interest in the program by expanding the multiple components that make up an EPICS: financial support for projects, outreach to community partners and additional development metrics for the project.

How Does It Work?
The emphasis of EPICS is on the societal and community service aspects of engineering, as well as the creation of opportunities for females and under-represented minorities. The program also applies vertical integration within each project, that is, interaction and mentoring between seniors and freshmen, and between freshmen and high school students. Throughout each project, students utilize and apply engineering knowledge into practice by creating tangible products for community partners who are in need of assistance, but lack of budget to gain support. 

Drexel EPICS is trying to gain more participation from students. In the long run, there will be projects that are suitable not only for engineering students, but also for students from all colleges across the university.

Who can participate?
All faculty, community partners, donors and students who are freshmen, seniors or Paul Peck Scholars are eligible to participate in EPICS projects. 

At Drexel EPICS, some projects are incorporated within a freshman engineering design course or a senior design project. The model is also implemented in the Paul Peck Scholars' Capstone Class. Students are expected to fulfill the course requirements, such as a final paper, a design notebook, etc. and deliver the final project to the community partner.

Some projects also include students from high schools in the Philadelphia area.

Benefits
Participating students are able to gain real-world experience and transform their classroom academic knowledge to pragmatic scenarios, as well as benefit the community in a variety of ways.

Projects
Drexel EPICS’ first and largest project was with the Philadelphia Clear Air Council in 2009 on Sensor Network for Monitoring Air and Water Quality along the Delaware River. Other projects include BioSand Filtration, Underwater Robotics, Bartram’s Garden’s Chair Design, a Climate Central App, etc. 

All projects are guaranteed to require students to utilize appropriate technical skills for their level. A number of projects come from the same community partner due to the long-term relationship with Drexel EPICS while others may be a single project from organizations such as The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Click here to view the list of 2013 – 2014 projects.

Partners
Drexel EPICS community partners include, but are not limited to, the Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Philadelphia Clear Air Council, CitySail, Please Touch Museum, Bartram’s Gardens, The Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University and The Independence Seaport Museum.

To learn more about Drexel EPICS, visit their website.