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Developing Leadership Skills and Creating Community in Engineering Students

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 2: Building Community

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.404.1 - 24.404.10



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Paper Authors


Betsy F. Willis Southern Methodist University

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Dr. Betsy F. Willis is the Director of Undergraduate Advising and Student Records in the Lyle School of Engineering. In this role, she oversees academic records of over 1000 students and advises first year pre-engineering students. Dr. Willis holds Ph.D. and B.S. degrees in Food Process Engineering from Purdue University.

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David A. Willis Southern Methodist University

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David A. Willis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Southern Methodist University (SMU). He received his B.S. degree from North Carolina State University in 1995 and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue University in 1997 and 2001, respectively. His areas of expertise are heat transfer, phase change, fluid mechanics, and short pulse laser-material interactions. His current research involves laser microfabrication, high power laser-ablation, laser texturing, laser-induced forward transfer, and microfluidics. He has received the ASME North Texas Young Engineer of the Year Award, the SMU Rotunda Outstanding Professor Award, the SMU Golden Mustang Award, and the SMU Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor Award. Dr. Willis is a member of ASEE, ASME, the Laser Institute of America, and a Senior Member of the SPIE.

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Mark Fontenot Southern Methodist University

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Mark Fontenot is a lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and also serves as the department's academic adviser. He teaches courses in software development, data structures, and database systems, and he directs the Lyle School of Engineering's first-year design program. Additionally, Mark serves as a founding Faculty-in-Residence at SMU. He is interested in research concerning creativity and innovation of engineering students and engineering education in general. After finishing a BS in Computer Science at McNeese State University in Louisiana, he completed an MS in Computer Science at SMU. Mark is currently working part-time on a PhD in engineering education.

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Developing Leadership Skills and Creating Community in Engineering StudentsThe goal of the program is to improve retention of financially needy students during the first twoyears of their engineering studies and to develop their leadership skills. The goal isaccomplished by increasing engagement in both curricular and extracurricular activities. Theobjectives of the program are: 1) to identify incoming engineering students with high potentialfor leadership, 2) to enhance and build leadership skills through mentoring, tutoring, and workexperience, 3) to build academic excellence through programs such as block scheduling, and 4)to foster community among students through living in the Engineering Living and LearningCommunity (ELLC).The program provides scholarships in the first and second years of the engineering curriculum,years in which engineering and computer science students have high attrition rates. Aftersuccessfully completing the first two years, participants are supported by the university for theirthird and fourth years. In order to remain eligible for the program, participants must maintain atleast a 3.0 GPA at the end of each academic year, live in the ELLC, remain in good standingwith the university, and continue to make academic progress towards a degree program in theschool of engineering.The program directors work closely with the engineering recruiting office to identify eligibleadmitted students with an interest in pursuing a major in engineering or computer science.Among the admitted students, the program directors recruit candidates based on past academicachievement, leadership potential, curricular and extracurricular experiences, demonstratedfinancial need, and diversity. Top candidates are identified and phone interviews are conducted.Based on the outcome of the phone interviews, students are invited to join the program.Program scholars participate in three main co-curricular experiences aimed at buildingcommunity and increasing their leadership skills: block scheduling, academic advising and aweekly seminar. Since engineering students typically enroll in many of the same courses (but notnecessarily the same class section) during their first year, the academic adviser associated withthe program arranged for block scheduling of calculus, English and computer programming. Theacademic adviser also provided priority advising for program participants, occurring beforeadvising for all other students. The required weekly seminar program provides the opportunityfor scholars to develop leadership skills, discuss technical innovation, facilitate the transitionfrom high school to becoming a successful engineering student, and expose students to the localengineering and computer science industries.The IDEAL Scholars live in the ELLC, located in an on-campus residence hall. The ELLCcomprises one and a half floors of the residence hall and is reserved for undergraduateengineering students pursuing majors in engineering and computer science. The residentassistants (RA) in the ELLC are junior and senior engineering students, and the residentialcommunity programming is typically engineering related. The ELLC has close ties with theengineering school faculty through special programs and a faculty-in-residence from theDepartment of Computer Science and Engineering. The faculty in residence works closely withthe RAs of the ELLC to plan various events, holds office hours in the ELLC, and routinely joinsa group of students from the ELLC for meals and events on and off campus. The faculty inresidence also serves as a point of contact for the residential community director and ResidenceLife and Student Housing organization when coordinating events with the engineering school.Data on student success and program activities was collected through quantitative student dataand a summative survey given to the participants at the conclusion of the spring semesters. Todate, three cohorts of students have entered the program as follows: Cohort A – 9 students who entered Fall 2010; completed program in spring 2012 Cohort B – 8 students who entered Fall 2011; completed program in spring 2013 Cohort C – 11 students who entered Fall 2012; will complete year 2 of the program inspring 2014Of the 28 students in the program, two left the university and one changed majors out ofengineering. All participants declared engineering majors at or before the conclusion of theirsecond semester (after successfully completing the required engineering subset). Both term andcumulative GPAs of program participants were on average 0.5 points greater than their peers.The summative survey asked program participants to rate their level of agreement withstatements about program components as well as their leadership perceptions and involvementon a Likert scale. Program activities supported and fostered scholar development through theweekly seminars, block scheduling and community building. Scholars’ view of leadership wasexpanded, and all scholars participated in extracurricular activities with many taking onleadership roles. To date, 11 of the 28 scholars have had summer internships, and an additional 4pursued academic endeavors during the summers.

Willis, B. F., & Willis, D. A., & Fontenot, M. (2014, June), Developing Leadership Skills and Creating Community in Engineering Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20295

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