Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Daria Kotys-Schwartz

Second Advisor

Holly Matusovich

Third Advisor

Derek Reamon

Fourth Advisor

Michael Hannigan

Fifth Advisor

Rajagopalan Balaji


Grounded in motivation theory, this study evaluates how the contexts of project-based learning (PBL) and project-based service-learning (PBSL) affect student motivation in a required undergraduate mechanical engineering course - Component Design. This study aims to answer: 1) How does the context of service in project-based learning affect student motivation? and 2) What factors are most influential on student motivation to persist in project-based learning experiences? In spring 2011, the control group participated in a conventional PBL experience - to build an aesthetically pleasing vehicle that could be powered by a cordless electric drill. In spring 2012, the treatment group participated in a PBSL experience - fabricating tricycles for children in the community with physical disabilities. Pre-course and post-course surveys were administered to both cohorts to gather data about students' baseline levels and changes in interest and value for the course and the project, confidence in technical and non-technical skills, feelings of success, and indicators of engagement. Additionally, three 60-minute focus groups were held with each cohort following the project. Student motivation was sustained in both project contexts. Students in both cohorts began the course with relatively high levels of interest, value, and expectancy for success. Students in both cohorts ended the course with relatively high levels of interest, value, and feelings of success in the course and the project. Students from both cohorts also reported relatively high indicators of course and project engagement. For students in the PBL control group, the most significant predictor of motivation was confidence in their ability-related beliefs as well as their previous course- and project- related experiences. For students in the PBSL control group, the most significant predictor of motivation was the amount of initial value for the course and the project the students held. Initial course and project interest were also among the most important predictors of motivation in both project contexts. The results suggest that the actual context of a PBL experience may be less important than a thoughtfully designed PBL experience - one that is interesting and valuable to students, provides opportunities to develop skills, and allows students to utilize prior experience and knowledge.