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EPICS in IEEE Celebrates 15 Years of Impact

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Since its founding in 1995 at Purdue University, the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program has been providing nonprofit organizations with technology solutions to improve and deliver services to their community while broadening undergraduate students’ hands-on experiences.   

In 2009, the EPICS program was brought to IEEE by Moshe Kam, an IEEE Fellow and the 2005–2007 Vice President of IEEE Educational Activities; IEEE Senior Member Kapil Dandekar; and IEEE Fellow Saurabh Sinha. Together they founded EPICS in IEEE as an IEEE Educational Activities program. Funding to launch the program came from a seed grant through the IEEE New Initiatives Committee. Like the program at Purdue, EPICS in IEEE helps students develop essential skills by providing grant funding to allow them to work collaboratively to develop solutions to solve needs in their community.

This year the program marks its 15th anniversary.

“When we created EPICS in IEEE,” Dandekar explains, “we were very eager to align the perspective of service-learning from the EPICS program at Purdue with IEEE’s mission to foster technological innovation for the benefit of humanity.”

During the past 15 years, more than 219 projects in 34 countries have been completed, involving more than 11,000 students in service-learning projects. Of those students, 47 percent identified as female. And in 2023, thanks to generous donors, EPICS in IEEE surpassed a milestone of $1 million USD in project funding

“EPICS in IEEE has played a key role in expanding the global reach of projects in which engineering students bring their learning and skills to bear in addressing challenges faced by their local communities,” says Leah Jamieson, 2007 IEEE president and a cofounder of EPICS at Purdue in West Lafayette, IN, USA. “By tackling community needs in the areas of access and abilities, education and outreach, human services, and the environment, students participating in EPICS in IEEE are gaining firsthand experience in marrying engineering and community.”

A focus on learning outcomes

The program differs from other humanitarian efforts within IEEE because of its focus on engineering-student learning outcomes as well as the benefits to the local communities.

“EPICS in IEEE is a perfect way to merge engineering education and engagement,” Sinha says. “It provides an opportunity for universities to connect their students’ educational experiences to support the United Nations sustainable development goals. I’ve had the privilege of seeing EPICS in IEEE in many countries, and enjoyed the globalizing benefit that the program brought to all parties involved.”

The projects include:

  • a recycling center, to reduce plastic waste at Ankole Institute, in southwestern Uganda, was built by students from Kyambogo University of Kampala, Uganda .
  • a computer mouse for those whose hands or arms have an abnormality, so they could more easily play games designed by a team of students from the University of Florida, Gainesville 
  • a solar-powered air filtration system for nomadic people in Mongolia created by students from Arizona State University

In follow-up surveys about their EPICS in IEEE participation, students have shared that it was unlike anything they did in the classroom. “This experience has been a profound learning opportunity,” says Leonardo Vergara, a systems engineering student at Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, in Colombia and team member of the Eyeland EPICS in IEEE project. Vergara adds, “My collaboration and communication skills have also been greatly enhanced. It has reaffirmed my belief in technology’s power to create positive social impact and ignited a sense of social responsibility.”

Continued growth

To take the program to the next level, EPICS in IEEE works with the IEEE Foundation to enable donors to support the program. Thanks to the partnership, initiatives such as the EPICS in IEEE Environmental Competition, funded by the United Engineering Foundation, and Access and Abilities Competition, supported by the IEEE Jon C. Taenzer Memorial Fund  are made possible.

“Over the past 15 years, the term service learning has been evolving and is often now referred to as community-engaged learning,” says Stephanie Gillespie, Chair of EPICS in IEEE. “This updated terminology better reflects the significant role the community has in the learning process. EPICS in IEEE requires significant community-partner engagement alongside the IEEE and student involvement because this partnership with a community organization is more likely to lead to long-term project support and maintenance once deployed into a community.

As the field of service learning and community-engaged learning evolves, so does EPICS in IEEE. During the past two years, the committee has noticed an increased interest in service learning: 190 proposals for funding were submitted  in 2023, up from 77 the year before. The committee approved 39 projects last year, up from 23 in 2022.

The program has streamlined its processes and increased its marketing efforts. It now provides more resources to help ensure the success of the projects. In addition, EPICS volunteers have strengthened partnerships with IEEE affinity groups, technical societies, and regions and sections to raise awareness of the program among students and IEEE members.

EPICS in IEEE would not have had this success if not for donors supporting the program. The funding that is provided to student teams allows them to make their ideas and solutions a reality. These students experience real-world engineering design challenges and the enriching experience of making a difference in their communities. Donations to EPICS in IEEE make a real impact on engineering students as they prepare for their careers.

“Many thanks to EPICS IEEE for allowing us to bring so much impact to our country and our Region. We are truly grateful to be able to bring education and technology to future generations” said Giovanna Estefania Ramirez Ruiz, Rokit Project Lead.

Celebratory events

EPICS in IEEE is commemorating its 15th anniversary with a number of events in 2024. The celebration kicked off during the IEEE Rising Stars conference, held from 5 to 7 January in Las Vegas, NV, USA. At the conference, program volunteers and staff members gave presentations about EPICS in IEEE, and student teams showcased their projects

Join us for our first virtual event of the year on 16 April. Students and faculty members from past EPICS in IEEE projects will share what they have learned from proposal to deployment, and best practices to ensure project success. This panel is for students, faculty, and IEEE members who want to learn more about the EPICS in IEEE program, specifically how to plan and execute an engineering service learning project. Led by Leah Jamieson, 2007 IEEE President and co-founder of EPICS at Purdue University, this panel will include suggestions on how to ensure team members are learning professional skills while successfully impacting the community.

Register here…

Additional virtual events are planned for this year, as well as stories posted on the EPICS in IEEE website, highlighting past and current projects.

Interested in helping EPICS in IEEE expand its reach and support more worthy projects?  Contact Danny DeLiberato, CFRE at d.deliberato@ieee.org or call +1 732 562 5446 or make a gift online.

This article is an edited excerpt of the “This IEEE Service-Learning Program Is More Popular Than Ever Over 11,000 students have participated in the 15-year old program” published by The Institute in January, 2024.

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