Enabling Engineering Performance Skills: A Program to Teach Communication, Leadership, and Teamwork

By Seat, Elaine; Parsons, J. Roger et al. | Journal of Engineering Education, January 2001 | Go to article overview
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Enabling Engineering Performance Skills: A Program to Teach Communication, Leadership, and Teamwork


Seat, Elaine, Parsons, J. Roger, Poppen, William A., Journal of Engineering Education


Enabling Engineering Performance Skills: A Program to Teach Communication, Leadership, and Teamwork*

ABSTRACT

A minor in Engineering Communication and Performance is being created at the University of Tennessee in conjunction with the engage Freshman Engineering Program. This minor provides engineering undergraduate students with formal training and a credential in complementary performance skills necessary for success in today's workplace. This interdisciplinary program is designed to improve the ability of engineering graduates to work on teams, to be effective communicators, to be socially adept, and to be prepared for leadership roles.

Five courses compose the minor. Three ofthese courses are new and custom-prepared for engineering students, while the other two may be selected from a limited list of courses that provide in-depth training on supervision, cultural diversity, and interpersonal interaction. This multi-disciplinary program takes a novel approach in the subject matter presentation and in the method of coaching students to use these skills. In the custom courses, students receive instruction and are placed in mini-practicums. To complete the minor, students participate in a fill practicum in a social service setting.

This paper discusses assessment; course development; program basis and development; strategies for implementation of this new program; integration between engineering, counseling psychology, and human services; and student, faculty, and industry response to the program. The collaboration makes this program transportable to other institutions as it is dependent on having institution expertise in the disciplines of counseling and human ser

vices rather than having engineering educators with expertise in these fields. Our experience with establishing this collaboration will also be discussed.

I. INTRODUCTION

It is no secret that the quality of interpersonal, communication, and teaming skills in engineering graduates--termed performance skills`is of concern to both industry employers and engineering educators. These skills include communication abilities, interpersonal interaction, conflict mediation, team performance, understanding of technical culture, and sensitivity toward diverse populations due to race, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic standing.

To address the need for improved performance skills, a minor in Engineering Communication and Performance has been established at the University of Tennessee (LT) College of Engineering in conjunction with the College of Education's Counseling, Deafness, and Human Service Department and the engage Freshman Engineering Program. This new program uses both existing and new courses to teach the complementary performance skills that enable engineers to optimize application of their technical skills. A formal minor provides the engineering graduate with a marketable credential and establishes a structure and format for teaching these nontechnical and social skills in a problem solving style that is often preferred by engineers.

Three custom courses that are the backbone of this minor were piloted to evaluate effectiveness of instruction, determine assessment techniques, and gauge student and industry interest. This paper discusses the minors instructional scope, use of interdisciplinary teams, and implementation strategies.

To understand how a program to train engineers in performance competencies operates, we will first discuss the traits of a successful engineering student and their expected level of performance skills. After establishing this typical profile, the Engineering Communication and Performance Minor and the rationale for its design will be discussed.

II. BACKGROUND

The need to provide more than just technical skills to students in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SME&T) has been outlined by both the educational and industrial community.

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