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Exploring the Relationship Between Communication Skills and Performance in First-Year Engineering

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Professional Skill Development

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Michelle E. Jarvie-Eggart Michigan Technological University

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Dr. Jarvie-Eggart is a registered professional engineer with over a decade of experience as an environmental engineer. She lectures in the Engineering Fundamentals department at Michigan Technological University. Her research interests include online learning, active and collaborative learning, sustainability and diversity in engineering.

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Laura Kasson Fiss Michigan Technological University

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Laura Kasson Fiss is a Research Assistant Professor in the Pavlis Honors College at Michigan Technological University. She holds a PhD from Indiana University in English (2013). Her work has appeared in Victorian Periodicals Review, The Lion and the Unicorn, and The Cambridge Companion to Gilbert and Sullivan. In addition to her research on Victorian humor, she conducts higher education research and scholarship on issues of inclusion, reflection, and innovation.

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Karla Saari Kitalong Michigan Technological University

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Karla Saari Kitalong is Professor of Humanities at Michigan Technological University and director of the program in Scientific and Technical Communication. Her research and teaching interests are situated at the intersections of visual rhetoric and usability. Her work in formative evaluation and user-centered design of mixed reality simulations, humanities learning games, and immersive databases has been funded by both the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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This paper is a continuation of earlier work (Jarvie-Eggart, Fiss, & Kitalong, 2018) examining the data behind first year engineering students’ performance in introductory engineering and composition courses, as well as their incoming ACT scores, to determine if there is a link between communication abilities and success in engineering curricula.

Engineering students don’t always recognize the importance of communication as a skill. It has been shown that communication is often devalued by engineering students, often failing “to appreciate that written words, not just calculations, express engineering content” (Conrad, 2017).

It is widely accepted that math skills are a predictor of success in engineering programs. Although math is essential for good engineering, career progression can be limited by poor communication skills. Communication is in the top three most important competencies ranked by engineering graduates - planning & time management is first, problem solving is second (Passw & Passaw, 2017). Oral and written communication take up 55-60% of an engineer's working day.

Communication is recognized by ABET as an essential competency for engineers, and is included in the new ABET program Criteria 3. Student Outcomes 3, “ability to communicate effectively with a range of audiences” (ABET, 2017). Many programs focus on assessing communication within the context of a final report or senior design project, at the end of a student’s experience, as they are testing program outcomes. But little is done to assess in-coming student verbal or written communication abilities as it relates to their success as engineers. This work examines incoming student ACT English language arts scores to determine if it can be used as a predictor for overall performance in introductory engineering and composition courses.


ABET, 2017. “EAC Mapping C3 A-K to C3 1-7” Accessed online at: On Feb 15, 2017.

Conrad, S. 2017. “A Comparison of Practitioner and Student Writing in Civil Engineering.” Journal of Engineering Education. Vol. 106, N0. 2., pp. 191-217.

Jarvie-Eggart, M., Fiss, L. K., Kitalong, K. S., 2018. “Work-in-Progress -- Comparing First Year Engineering Students’ Math and Verbal ACT scores and Performance in Introductory Engineering and Composition Courses” ASEE First Year Engineering Experience (FYEE) Conference, Rowan University, Glasboro, NJ, July 24- 26, Session W501A: WIP: Student Success & Development - Focus on Retention.

Passaw, H.J., & C.H. Passaw. 2017. “What Competencies Should Undergraduate Engineering Programs Emphasize?A Systematic Review.” Journal of Engineering Education. Vol. 106., No. 3, pp.475-526

Jarvie-Eggart, M. E., & Fiss, L. K., & Kitalong, K. S. (2019, June), Exploring the Relationship Between Communication Skills and Performance in First-Year Engineering Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32815

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