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CENE 150 Civil and Environmental Engineering for a Sustainable Future

A guide for CENE 150 students to help with their essays and video presentation using library resources

What is a Case Study?

A case study is an account of an activity, event, or problem that contains a real or hypothetical situation and includes complexities you would encounter in the workplace. Case studies are used to help you see how the complexities of real life influence decisions.

This may take the form of a historical case study which analyzes the causes and consequences of a situation and discusses the lessons learned. 

Other types of case studies imagine or role play to make plausible recommendations to senior management. Some case studies attempt to solve a problem by developing a new design. These types of case studies are problem-oriented

When looking for a case study for CENE 150, make sure it answers these questions:

  1. Is this case study unique and different from the other groups in your class?
  2. Has the event occurred or begun between 1500 CE and 2000 CE?
  3. Does this case study address the impacts that engineers have on the environment and society's public health?
  4. Does this case study address how engineering decisions and solutions are influenced by societal, cultural, public health, environmental, or economic constraints?
  5. Does this case study address the professional role and ethical responsibility that engineering, in association with other professions, has for:
    1. Protecting human health and ensuring public safety?
    2. Protecting and improving the environment?
    3. Advancing and using sustainable practices in engineering design?


Why use a Case Study?

Case studies expose you to real-life examples of situations that you may deal with, or not otherwise experience – if you come across something only once in your career, you’re learning on the fly. Case studies allow you to:

  • Explore the nature of a problem and circumstances that affect a solution
  • Learn about others' viewpoints and how they may be taken into account
  • Define your priorities and make your own decisions to solve a similar problem
  • Predict outcomes and consequences

If you’ve seen something similar in a case study, you’ve got something to look back on. Case studies also let you lay out all the information from hindsight, including the stuff that might not be obvious in the moment, but is there if you know to look for it and ask the right questions. You can put yourself in the shoes of the various decision makers and consider what blind spots you might have in a similar situation.

They can also promote creative thought. Some readers may have a similar situation but have never considered the solution that worked in the case study. Other readers may find that the ultimate solution in the case study won't work for them, but the trial and error solutions discarded in the case study may provide guidance about a path that will work. Finding out what other people did isn't just a "how to" to fix something. It's a "how to" in ways to address a problem.

Case studies demonstrate the complexity and messiness of real situations, and the reality that any decision to be made has to be made with incomplete information.

In other words: They are NOT clean sanitized homework problems or simple examples that have a single easy answer. They are real situations with real ethical dilemmas that may or may not have been dealt with properly in the past. They provide you (the students) to delve into the nasty, twisted, complicated reality of ethical dilemmas and hopefully come out with a healthy respect that decision makers in ethical situations don't always have a quick simple answer but are caught in a dilemma and they try to do the best they can in spite of the situation. You can not get this experience any other way short of placing you into an actual ethical dilemma, which ironically would be unethical for us to do to you.

Case studies will allow you to...