Graduate Course Lets Engineering Students Apply Knowledge to Real-World Problems

January 2010 By

OXFORD, Miss. - When Shannon Wilson, a University of Mississippi graduate student from Fairfax Station, Va., signed up for a course in Service Learning in Water and Sanitation Engineering last fall, she didn't know what to expect.

But the environmental engineering major had heard that the class, taught by Cristiane Queiroz Surbeck, would give her a chance to apply her classroom learning to the real world.

Wilson and her nine classmates did, in fact, get to apply their understanding of fluid mechanics and environmental engineering in Surbeck's class, but they also got a chance to learn skills necessary to help communities in need of clean water.

"I'm sure many of the students wondered what a service learning class meant," said Surbeck, who designed the course curriculum. "Service learning simply combines academic classroom knowledge with meaningful service for needy communities."

That's why Surbeck partnered with Living Waters for the World and Clean Water U to provide her students with practical knowledge of water systems and to teach them how to "improve drinking-water treatment systems to be taken to poor communities, both in the U.S and abroad."

The fall course required students to actively work at Clean Water U, which is located at Camp Hopewell and Conference Center outside Oxford. Clean Water U is a simulation experience designed to equip mission teams with the skills necessary to install clean-water systems provided by Living Waters for the World.

"This course had great personal meaning to me - it was my first hands-on experience working with water treatment equipment," Wilson said. "I also learned how to be in a leadership role without being overbearing. This was more than a regular engineering class."

"Even our lab discussions centered on how to improve present day water systems or how to provide our new knowledge and skills to needy communities. I gained priceless knowledge," she said.

Surbeck said she did everything possible to make this course happen because students "learn best and most deeply by taking knowledge from the classroom and applying it to something they can relate to."

"The service the students provided was in-depth," she said. "They tested the efficacy of the water treatment system and used their abilities to do something important for someone else."

For more information on Service Learning in Water and Sanitation Engineering, contact Surbeck at For more information on engineering programs at UM, go to