During an informative webinar on 16 April 2024, past EPICS in IEEE project leaders from around the world shared best practices for running successful service-learning projects

In the 15 years since its launch in 2009, the renowned “EPICS in IEEE” program has facilitated more than 219 service-learning projects in 34 countries and involved over 11,000 students worldwide, nearly half of whom are women.  EPICS in IEEE projects provide unique opportunities for students to engage with engineering professionals and mentors, local organizations, and technological innovation to address community-based issues related to access and abilities, education and outreach, human services, and the environment.  Because they also involve a diverse range of circumstances and populations around the globe, these projects present their share of both opportunities and challenges – realities which past project participants have faced with ingenuity and courage.

As a result, there’s perhaps no one better to offer advice on best practices for EPICS in IEEE project success than the project leaders and participants themselves.

In that spirit, and in celebration of EPICS in IEEE’s milestone 15th anniversary this year, a global panel of students and faculty members participated in a special webinar on 16 April 2024 entitled Best Practices for Service Learning from Past EPICS in IEEE Project Leaders to share their experiences leading successful EPICS in IEEE projects.  During the webinar, moderated by Professor Leah Jamieson, Ph.D. (President and CEO of IEEE in 2007, President of the IEEE Foundation from 2012-2016, current Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, US, and co-founder of EPICS at Purdue University), panelists shared the biggest lessons learned from their experience and subsequent top tips to help future EPICS in IEEE project leaders drive productive and successful projects that will benefit others for generations to come.


  • Victoria Serrano, Ph.D. — Professor of Electrical Engineering, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá (Panama) and faculty lead on an EPICS in IEEE project designed to help “close the gap for those with disabilities”
  • Jayant Sogikar – Software Developer, Oracle (India) and former student leader of an EPICS in IEEE project to create a portable assistive device in the form of a low-cost wearable that can help visually impaired/blind users with reading and navigation
  • Bryan Yavari – Recent Neuroscience graduate of Arizona State University (US) and student leader of an EPICS in IEEE project that created a solar-powered air-filtration system designed to improve air quality for nomadic communities in Mongolia
  • Antony Tumwebaze – Engineer at Abbott Construction (Uganda) and former leader of two EPICS in IEEE projects; the first project involved the team’s installation of solar-powered electricity and water treatment capabilities at the Itara Health Center in rural Uganda to help enhance the quality and reliability of medical care at the facility, and the second project involved the team’s creation of a plastic recycling process designed to improve water quality and boost the economy for congested riverside communities in southwestern Uganda


“Best Practices” for Service Learning from Past EPICS in IEEE Project Leaders

Solicit Many Partners’ PerspectivesGetting a broad perspective on the needs of the end users you are trying to serve can help your team be more successful.“When we decided to focus our project on innovating a solution to enhance air quality in Mongolia, we reached out to dozens of partner organizations to solicit their opinions and support,” Yavari said.  “Hearing a range of opinions from different people and organizations will help you come together with the best solution.”


Walk in Your Partners’ Shoes – According to the panelists, engaging your project’s ultimate target audience in your process is critical.  For example, “after creating orientation signs in Braille to help visually impaired occupants navigate through our university buildings, we asked a blind colleague to test our sign and she informed us that it felt rough to the touch, which led us to add a layer of resin to make the plate smoother,” shared Dr. Serrano, who confirmed the importance of soliciting feedback from members of the community you’re partnering with.  “It’s important to involve your audience and feel what they’re feeling so that you design the best solution for them.”

Sogikar agreed.  “Among other partners on our project, we scheduled regular meetings with representatives of the National Association for the Blind, and their suggestions and feedback on our progress enabled us to develop the best solutions and finish our project on time,” he said. “Working with and getting insights from actual users/partners in the community provides critical real-world inputs that can truly make a difference in people’s lives.”


Choose Wisely – The most important part of a service learning project is the community partner. The team will engage with this organization throughout the project from design to deployment, and this decision should not be taken lightly. “Selecting the right project partner(s) is paramount,” Sogikar confirmed.  “A great community partner is essential for the project’s success.”


Define Before Designing – Creating your proposal and planning out your project is critical to your team’s success.“Be as thorough and detailed as possible when defining your project,” Yavari advised.  “Conducting in-depth research and interviews of partners and stakeholders at the deployment stage will help you determine the exact solution you want to create and help avoid the need for changes later.”

Tumwebaze couldn’t agree more.  “Understanding the exact challenge(s) you’re trying to solve will also help you rally support from the community you’re attempting to partner with,” he said.

Dr. Serrano concurred and offered additional advice for prospective EPICS in IEEE project leaders in the proposal stage.  “To increase the strength of your EPICS in IEEE project proposal and request for funding, visit the EPICS in IEEE website (https://epics.ieee.org/) and review the projects that have been funded in the past to determine if yours fits within the scope of the program and will be successful,” she recommended. In addition, EPICS in IEEE has resources available to help create strong proposals with a higher likelihood of getting funded. 

Sogikar advised teams to break their project into smaller parts. “All projects have a lot of tasks, but if you break them down into smaller tasks, they’ll be easier for team members to accomplish,” Sogikar advised.  “Having a fixed schedule made up of smaller goals will help the team work through them more easily.”


Communication is Critical – According to Tumwebaze, clear and regular two-way communication with project participants will enable you to build a strong team, monitor the status of tasks, and share project progress with others.


Leverage IEEE’s Access to Professional Engineers – EPICS in IEEE support goes beyond just funding projects. Our program provides teams access to top multidisciplinary engineers, industry mentors, and support from around the world. “IEEE young professionals have valuable expertise and bring diverse skills and knowledge that can be vital to project teams,” said Tumwebaze, who encourages project participants to reach out to local IEEE sections and IEEE Technical Societies.  “Our local IEEE Section helped create a learning platform for our student volunteers/upcoming innovators that allowed them to learn skills from professionals in the field, so it’s important to remember that IEEE offers access to professionals who can help your project.”


Celebrate the Process –Enjoy your project and celebrate the little wins!  “As a faculty leader, I rewarded our students along the way with little things like fun snacks or extra points to celebrate their small successes and motivate them to achieve their goals,” Dr. Serrano said.

“Overall, it’s important to enjoy the journey that your project represents,” Yavari agreed.  “Reflect and learn at each milestone, use it to go forward, and celebrate throughout the project instead of just waiting until the end.”


For More Information

For more information on EPICS in IEEE or the opportunity to participate in service-learning projects, visit https://epics.ieee.org/.  “EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) in IEEE” is an initiative which provides opportunities for students to work proactively with both engineering professionals, technological innovation, and local organizations/partners to develop solutions that address global community challenges.