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Imbedding Industry Expectations for Professional Communication into Undergraduate Engineering Curricula

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Postgraduate Pathways and Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Jacob Allen Cress University of Dayton Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jacob Cress is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Management, Systems, and Technology. Prior to joining the faculty at UD, Dr. Cress worked for two years at Stress Engineering Services Inc. in Mason, Ohio. There he specialized in mechanical test development and project management largely in the railroad and hunting equipment sectors. For five years prior to that, Dr. Cress worked at GE Aviation in Cincinnati, Ohio, leading the certification effort for the LEAP-1A/1C HPC airfoil vibratory stress responses. Dr. Cress received his doctoral and master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame, both in aerospace engineering; and his undergraduate bachelors of mechanical engineering degree from the University of Dayton.

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Patrick W. Thomas University of Dayton

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Dr. Patrick W. Thomas is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programs in English at the University of Dayton. His research interests include workplace literacy, writing technologies, empirical methodologies, computer-mediated communication, and professional and technical writing instruction. Since 2011, he has taught a variety of courses in the English department at the University of Dayton, including; digital writing, argumentation, composition theory, writing assessment, discourse analysis, technical communication, report and proposal writing, writing for the web, and social media. Dr. Thomas earned his PhD and MA in the Literacy, Rhetoric, and Social Practice program at Kent State University and his BA in English Education from Mercyhurst University.

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This evidence based practice paper reports on the collaboration between English and engineering faculty to design integrated professional communication activities informed by industry co-curricular partners. Central to contemporary pedagogical approaches such as problem-based learning and entrepreneurially minded learning is an aim to engage students in authentic experiences which integrate technical knowledge with workplace skills connected to professionalism, communication, collaboration, and leadership. This aim, however, is often difficult to incorporate into the design of engineering curricula, which frequently separate technical learning from “soft skills” coursework in interpersonal, professional and technical communication. Recognizing this persistent divide, this paper reports on a descriptive case study (Merriam, 2009; Yin, 2013) employing a backwards design approach (Wiggins and McTighe, 2011) to integrate professional communication activities into engineering curricula at a large, private university in the Midwestern United States. As a way to establish outcomes for engineering students’ learning in professional communication, the purpose of this study is two-fold: (1) to understand the values, standards of practice, and texts that engineering companies require of entry-level engineers; and (2) to locate opportunities in engineering curricula where such values, standards of practice, and texts can be integrated. The research question asks what kinds of activities can successfully integrate developmental experience with professional communication (written, visual, verbal, and/or multimodal forms) while demonstrating students’ learning of technical engineering content knowledge. The case study draws upon interviews with human resource personnel and managers, and focus groups of early-career engineers at five companies of regional and national status operating in Southwest Ohio. In addition, the study makes use of observational data and textual analysis of documents collected from faculty teaching in mechanical and civil engineering programs at the university. Interview and focus group data were coded thematically to identify organizational values for effective professional communication, engineers’ knowledge about effective communication, and genres and text types. Instructor-supplied documents, including syllabi and assignments descriptions, were analyzed to determine the presence of class activities that require professional communication skills or practices. Finally, observations were analyzed to address engineering faculty members’ pedagogical needs and opportunities for incorporating communication skills into specific courses. This paper provides a discussion of the communication values, standards of practice, and skills required of early career engineers as articulated by industry stakeholders, and provides recommendations for the design of professional communication assignments usable in engineering content courses. Two prototypes of assignments are provided and discussed.

Cress, J. A., & Thomas, P. W. (2020, June), Imbedding Industry Expectations for Professional Communication into Undergraduate Engineering Curricula Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34749

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