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A Leadership-Development Ecosystem for Engineering Graduate Students

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Designing and Evaluating Engineering Leadership Programs

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development

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Paper Authors


Teresa J. Didiano University of Toronto

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Teresa Didiano is the Graduate Professional Development Coordinator at the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering at the University of Toronto. She designs and coordinates leadership and professional development programs for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to explore diverse career pathways. Teresa has an HBSc and MSc from the University of Toronto, and Life Skills Coaching Certification from George Brown College. She also is a certified MBTI Practitioner and recently completed Stanford University’s Life Design Training.

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Annie Elisabeth Simpson Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering, University of Toronto

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Annie Simpson M Ed is the Associate Director or Troost ILead. She oversees ILead’s co-curricular programs and manages the programming team. As a long standing member of the team, Annie has been engaged in the development of many programs and in the establishment of ILead culture. Annie developed ‘The Power of Story: Discovering Your Leadership Narrative,” and taught the course for its first four years. She also supports ILead’s growing community of Instructors. Before coming to U of T Annie taught in the community college system and also worked as a counselor, conflict mediator and restorative justice facilitator and trainer. Annie is committed to transformative education that engages the whole person. She is inspired to cultivate the emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness of students, staff and professionals. She is a certified Search Inside Yourself teacher; a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence program for leaders.

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Doug Reeve P.Eng. University of Toronto

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Dr. Reeve was the founding Director (Emeritus) of the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) (2010-2018) at the University of Toronto. After a lengthy career as a consulting engineer he made development of personal capability central to his work with engineering students, undergraduate and graduate. In 2002 he established Leaders of Tomorrow, a student leadership development program that led to the establishment of ILead in 2010. He is a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry and ILead.

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There is a rapidly growing body of literature on engineering leadership education for undergraduate students [1, 2, 3]. However, there is little published about leadership development for graduate students. There have been calls from national bodies to create and expand professional development opportunities for graduate students [4-6], and leadership education is ripe to complement highly technical disciplines. Leadership education cultivates self-awareness, clarifies personal vision, and hones interpersonal and teamwork competencies. These critical skills enhance the experience of students in their studies and prepare students to succeed in their future careers.

In this paper we discuss how the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering at the University of Toronto supports the leadership development of graduate students, including PhD students and research- and professional-based Masters students. We approach leadership education for graduate students by fostering a vibrant learning ecosystem including three learning environments: for-credit courses, co-curricular programming, and practical leadership experiences. We aim to: 1) cultivate graduate student self-leadership, 2) support the emergence of personal vision, and 3) create opportunities for community building and connection.

We offer seven, graduate-level courses but highlight four here – one on emotional intelligence, one on personal values, one on presentations, and one on positive psychology. Each of these courses aims to foster greater self-awareness, confidence, and personal vision. The second learning environment is The OPTIONS Program, a professional-preparation, cohort-based program that supports graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in exploring diverse career pathways. Through this program participants envision and move towards their desired future. The third learning environment is ILead:Grad, a student-led group that coordinates workshops and events to foster a culture of leadership development. By working in a team and building a shared vision, students get the experience of collaborating with others to design initiatives, making decisions as a group, and leading in their community.

We conclude the paper with a list of recommendations to support educators to create opportunities for graduate students to engage with leadership development.

Topic Area: Design

Submission Type: Practice

References [1] M. Klassen, D. Reeve, C. Rottmann, R. Sacks, A. Simpson, and A. Huynh, “Charting the landscape of engineering leadership education in North American universities,” in Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA, 2016. [Online]. Available: 10.18260/p.26486. [Accessed: Oct 8, 2020]. [2] C. Rottmann and M. Handley, “We the North: Engineering Leadership Programs in Canada,” American Society for Engineering Education, 2020. Accessed: Jan 13, 2021. [Online]. Available: [3] R. Paul and L. Gradon Cowe Falls, “Engineering leadership education: A review of best practices,” in Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Seattle, WA, 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: Oct 8, 2020]. [4] J. Edge and D. Munro, “Inside and Outside the Academy: Valuing and Preparing PhDs for Careers,” The Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa, ON, 2015. pp. 22, 54-66. Accessed: Jan 13, 2021. [Online]. Available: [5] L. Jonker, “Ontario’s PhD Graduates From 2009: Where Are They Now?,” Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, Toronto, ON, 2016. pp. 15-16, 24. Accessed: Jan 13, 2021. [Online]. Available: [6] A. Leshner and L. Scherer, Eds, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Graduate STEM Education in the 21st Century, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2018.

Didiano, T. J., & Simpson, A. E., & Reeve, D. (2021, July), A Leadership-Development Ecosystem for Engineering Graduate Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36589

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