Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at an innovative program at the University of Utah designed to help engineering students communicate more effectively. It is from the October, 2004 issues of ASEE Prism, Volume 14, Number 2. . Copyright ? 2004 ASEE, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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ON CAMPUS LEADERSHIP LOUD AND CLEAR
By Robert Gardner
A COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS CENTER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH IS PRIMING ENGINEERING UNDERGRADUATES TO BECOME LEADERS IN THE WORKPLACE.
Most engineering schools have programs in place to help students improve their communications skills. Unfortunately, many of these programs require additional classes in an already packed curriculum and do not engage students until their senior year, when they are on the verge of graduation. The Center for Engineering Leadership at the University of Utah is unique in that it engages students in their freshman year. "We work with engineering faculty," Director April Kedrowicz says, "in students' core classes-[of which there is] one required course at every level, freshman through senior-and develop their writing, speaking, and team skills."
The "we" is a staff of twelve humanities graduate student "consultants" who help students with oral presentation, writing skills, and the dynamics of working as a team. "They do a lot of behind the scenes work," Kedrowicz says. This behind-the-scenes work includes meeting with teaching assistants and faculty members to better integrate communication skills instruction into the curriculum. They also lecture in the engineering classes on "presentation techniques, persuasion, and the dynamics of teamwork."
The center prepares students with communications and teamwork skills needed to lead, but also makes them aware of ethical issues. This is especially important in engineering, a field with the potential to seriously impact public safety. The center offers a general education elective in applied ethics that is taught by a philosophy professor and features professional engineers from companies such as Dupont, Bard Access, and QuartzDyne as guest lecturers. Although the course is not required, "students are strongly encouraged to take it by their advisers," Kedrowicz says.
The program's origins date back seven years to when mechanical engineering professor Robert Roemer approached Ann Darling and Maureen Mathison of Utah's department of communication. Roemer was looking for help for his engineering students, who were having difficulty presenting professional documents and making presentations. Kedrowicz, as a communications Ph.D. candidate, worked helping engineering students in the system this triumvirate set up. Last year, the Center for Engineering leadership was set up with a $1.1 million, five-year grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, established in honor of Hewlett Packard Company co-founder William Hewlett and his wife.
The center currently works with five of the seven engineering departments at Utah: mechanical, chemical, civil engineering, bioengineering, and electrical and computer. Kedrowicz says student reaction to the program has generally been positive, though she admits freshman and sophomores tend not to see the relevance of communication skills as they study electrical circuits, trusses, or organic molecules. "But by their junior year," Kedrowicz says, "they have begun to see why these skills are important."
Robert Gardner is Associate Editor of Prism Magazine.