Immediate Contributions: EPICS (FSE 104)

Immediate Contributions: EPICS (FSE 104)

"EM provided the EPICS program organizing principles for creating a more immersive real-world engineering experience for our students, and the specific community projects that the students engage with and utilize the EM framework during allow for organically integrating EM alongside other learning objectives."

- Joshua Loughman, Lecturer and Director, EPICS

Case at a glance

Integration goals

Integrate EM into a social entrepreneurship program based in engineering but with a multidisciplinary and cross-academic level approach to human-centered design 

Materials affected

Course syllabi and design process modules, program training package

Lessons learned

EM is a natural fit for design-based service-learning courses. The inclusion of EM acted as a learning-multiplier as it gave students a language and an approach to thinking about the difficult challenges that arise in real-world, open-ended, and interdisciplinary projects such as those found in the EPICS program.


Founded at Purdue University in 1995, EPICS is a very unique program that provides many benefits to students and communities, local and global. In fall 2009, ASU joined the consortium of 20 universities in the nationwide EPICS program. That year, 35 students enrolled in the first series of EPICS courses. The curriculum and enrollment have grown from one EPICS GOLD class, 35 students, and eight Epics Teams in 2009 to six EPICS GOLD classes, 142 students, and several EPICS Teams winning national awards, making it the largest social entrepreneurship program at ASU. 

The EPICS at ASU Program is based in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and EPICS courses are open to engineering undergraduates. Participating students represent a variety of disciplines within engineering. A common theme through all projects is that of sustainability—finding environmentally friendly solutions to community problems. There are several ways to get involved with EPICS: EPICS High School, EPICS Maroon, and EPICS Gold courses. 

Using the service-learning model, human-centered design, and social entrepreneurship framework, students complete project assignments for the EPICS sequence of classes that can be characterized as follows:

Projects are intended to be at least one year in length. As a result, ongoing student participation in EPICS classes is encouraged, even for four years. EPICS projects are performed without charge for not‐for‐profit host organizations such as a community groups, schools, or government entities. Student teams are multi‐disciplinary and comprise a mix of freshmen through seniors. Specific learning and program outcomes are available on the EPICS Gold webpage

EPICS included EM principles at the start of this integration effort, although previously the KEEN terminology was not used. For this reason, EM/3Cs provided a framework for aligning and improving many of the program’s elements. It was natural, in fact, to infuse EM ideas into program activities and students were quick to adopt EM behaviors. EM is now in the EPICS program’s course syllabi, training package, and design process modules, and one of its pillars is now focused on EM. In particular, the program has EM skill sessions and incorporates EM principles into learning objectives and formal assessments.

Integration details

The EPICS program’s EM integration effort consisted of five core activities. The first was to modify course curricula (syllabus, design process, curriculum modules) so that EM learning objectives would be utilized throughout and would be highlighted. The second activity was to incorporate EM feedback and questions into course design reviews. These review are presentation opportunities for students to interact with stakeholders and outside reviewers from industry and the community. The third activity was to design new skill sessions that aligned with EM learning objectives. The skill sessions are a menu of short learning opportunities that the students can choose from to complete a required amount throughout a semester. The fourth activity was to redesign the introductory course, FSE 104, so that the course was more scalable without sacrificing the real-world authenticity of the projects. The final activity was to train the program’s academic associates (project mentors) in EM objectives so that they would, from week to week, coach student teams with the 3Cs in mind. The effort produced four core deliverables:  1) modified curriculum modules (design process phases), 2) question and review prompts for design reviews, 3) skill session modules, 4) training material for academic associates. 
Spring: creation of the curricular changes (design phase modules, syllabus) and the scalable projects 
Summer: N/A
Fall: creation of the curricular changes (design phase modules, syllabus) and the scalable projects, development of academic associate training, curation of additional appropriate scalable projects. The EPICS design process was supplemented with documents better explaining the process and showing the nexus of EM and design-based service learning.  Additionally, four sections of a scalable EPICS 1 version were piloted successfully and the model will be used in the Fall. The first graduate EPICS course was offered, FSE 598 that included the same EM integrated curriculum. In addition, students in the graduate program were expected to have a greater role in the development of customer relationships and drawing from a diverse interdisciplinary perspective to achieve their project goals. 

Spring: Ten total sections of EPICS (5 FSE 104, 4 FSE 494, 1 FSE 598) were offered this semester to 237 students on both campuses. These classes utilized the newly developed EM infused design process supplementary documents. In third report period, Spring 2017, the EPICS design process continued to be supplemented with documents better explaining the process and showing the nexus of EM and design-based service learning. EPICS 1 was expanded to 6 sections. Thirteen total sections of EPICS (6 FSE 104, 7 FSE 494) were offered in Spring 2017 to 213 students on both campuses. These classes utilized the EM infused design process supplementary documents. The program also employed two additional Project Mentors - industry professionals dedicated to the success of the EPICS students and projects that were trained in the importance of entrepreneurial mindset and encouraged to review EM concepts with their student teams each week during their team meetings. Questions targeting each of the 3Cs were added to the design review rubric to evaluate team application of an entrepreneurial mindset approach to their projects.  Guiding question cards are being developed to assist reviewers gain a deeper understanding of a team’s understanding and application of entrepreneurial thinking. 
Summer: N/A
Fall: Implemented skill session and design review questions, The program employed 11 Project Mentors (industry professionals dedicated to the success of the EPICS students and projects) that were trained in the importance of entrepreneurial mindset and encouraged to review EM concepts with their student teams each week during their team meetings. Skill sessions for EM and the first set of design reviews incorporating EM prompts were implemented.

Spring: The program expanded to 13 sections of (6 FSE 104, 7 FSE 494). New skill sessions were added. In particular the first Generator Think Tank series was piloted for EPICS students as part of their skill session menu. The Generator Think Tank series is a one-day Socratic seminar style discussion moderated and including curated pre-seminar reading centered on a new and emerging technological issue. The seminar is designed to introduce complex issues at the intersection of the technology and broader impacts on economics, society, and other technology. The objective was to inspire students to seek answers to these questions (curiosity and connections) and to get the students to address issues of broad costs and benefits of technology (creating value). 
Summer: N/A
Fall: The EPICS Program is in the process of linking with initiatives to expand social innovation opportunities for undergraduate engineering students. This includes expanding from design-centric/customer-centric and connecting students to analysis-based and broad social issues to address.

NOTE: Supporting resources for this case study can be found within its companion KEEN card (link below), which is also where the community can discuss the case and its broader topic.

Integration outcomes

Students have demonstrated significant identification with the EM framework, yet no formal outcomes assessment data are currently available.  Dr. Gary Lichtenstein’s evaluation team, which is dedicated to assessing the overall EM integration initiative, will report results going forward.

Future plans

No further EM integration efforts beyond ongoing curation of potential new projects and making refinements are currently planned for this program. However, initiative-level evaluation results may call for more substantive changes.


Again, the EM framework was aligned with much of what the program already consisted of at the start of the integration effort, but having the organizing principles of EM/3Cs framework for the program’s core elements allowed the faculty and the students to adopt and learn EM/the 3Cs rapidly. 

Due to its unique starting point, this program has been able to go further with the 3Cs in an organic way than many other programs. Beyond that, ASU’s scale has been an advantage, or provided some benefits. For example, because of FSE’s size, mobilization of EM/3Cs throughout the schools acted like a network rather than a hierarchy. Instead of students only being assigned EM, they were enmeshed in it in ways that allowed them agency to adopt what was valuable for them and utilize it elsewhere. Put another way, because EM was deployed throughout a constellation of programs, courses, initiatives, and other efforts, it created a pattern that allowed students to integrate the mindset more easily. 
In keeping with ASU’s scale, the role of academic associates has been essential to this integration effort, as has faculty collaboration. Also, the ASU KEEN/EM team helped develop the program’s skill session offerings and other materials. 

One of the biggest challenges of integrating EM into a program like EPICS, which introduces students to what a real-world engineering project is like, is how intensive it is. However, this circumstance is exactly the kind best suited to launching EM and 3Cs learning in ways that grow organically and resonate with students. Finally, a barrier to integrating EM into a program like EPICS is that the term entrepreneurial can be confusing for some students, because even though projects are built around real-world engineering needs the projects are based on community development and community engineering with not-for-profit organizations. The way ASU’s EPICS program mediated this challenge was to introduce the 3Cs as a natural part of the design process and later make students aware that what they had been learning was called EM. The delay provided an excellent opportunity to address the importance of creating value outside of for-profit ventures.