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An Approach to Teaching People Skills in Senior Design Project Courses

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.174.1 - 26.174.8



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Paper Authors


Robert G. Batson P.E. University of Alabama

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Bob Batson is a professor of construction engineering at The University of Alabama. His Ph.D. training was in operations research, and he has developed expertise in applied statistics over the past thirty years. He currently teaches the required courses in project management, safety engineering, engineering management, and engineering statistics within the undergraduate programs of the Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering Department, and graduate courses in operations research and supply chain management. Batson's research interests include project risk management, quality management, supply chain management, maintenance management, and safety management. Since joining the University in 1984, he has held research contracts and grants worth over $2.4M, with organizations such as Mercedes-Benz, American Cast Iron Pipe Company, BellSouth, NSF, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, Army Aviation and Missile Command, and Alabama DOT. He served as Head of the Department of Industrial Engineering during 1994-99 and 2005-2010. He also was Director of the IE Design Clinic from 1998-2010, directing senior design projects with local industrial and service organizations.

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An Approach to Teaching People Skills in Senior Design Project CoursesThe premise of this paper is that most engineering students are ill-prepared for the demandstheir careers will place on them to interact with other people one-on-one, within teams, andwithin organizations—organizations that are often global in character. The senior designproject provides an opportunity (literally a last chance) to convey people skills to graduatingseniors. Because the project is intended to simulate real engineering practice, the facultymember can observe each student’s people skill level in project context and at a minimumprovide insights and coaching to improve those skills before graduation. The approach werecommend is fairly simple: Weekly class meetings where project teams report their progressand problems convince students that new skills are needed even for the smoothest operatorsamong them; students with lesser people skills often are found to be searching for help dealingwith particular individuals (at the client, on their assigned team), dealing with their designproject team, and dealing with the client organization as a whole. An approach to teachingpeople skills in senior design that has been used by the author for many years is presented.In teaching a two-semester industrial engineering senior design project course, we were able touse class time to read and immediately apply the simple lessons found in three readily availablepaperback “readers”: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Oriel’s TheTeam Memory Jogger, and Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. The first of these was usedin Semester 1, when students did individual projects of narrow scope with their clientcompany; literally, they were working one-on-one with a company representative (typically, anengineer or first-level manager). These projects were intended to orient the student to theircompany and the larger problem to be assigned as their team project in Semester 2. The othertwo readers were used in Semester 2, when students were forming their teams and decidingoperational norms, and were attempting to understand their client’s organization from more ofa perspective of middle manager—often dealing with the client’s information systems,customers, and suppliers.In this paper, we will answer the following questions: 1) Why these particular books, in thisorder? 2)What were the costs, in terms of class meeting time and student expense? 3)How werethe lessons taught? 4) Was this approach effective? For example, the lessons were introduced“just in time” for the students’ project needs, and there was no artificial role-playing—thelessons were intended to be applied in each student’s relationship with individuals and groupsin project context, and in understanding the global, information-based organizationsrepresented by the client and their suppliers and customers.While this approach worked well in the two-semester, six credit hour senior design experienceat our institution, it could be adapted to those departments that employ a single, team-basedsenior design project. The schedule to utilize the three “readers” in one- and two-semesterdesign sequences will be compared.

Batson, R. G. (2015, June), An Approach to Teaching People Skills in Senior Design Project Courses Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23513

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