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Improving Communication Skills in Global Engineers: Adapting the UNESCO Story Circles Method in Undergraduate Engineering Programs

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

International Division Technical Session 3 - Humanitarian Design

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Paper Authors


Awatef Ergai Kennesaw State University

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Dr. Ergai (Ph.D., Clemson University) is an assistant professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Kennesaw State University (KSU). Prior to this position, she served as an assistant teaching professor at Northeastern University and held a post-doctoral position in the Healthcare Systems Engineering at the same University for two years. Dr. Ergai teaches undergraduate and graduate industrial and systems engineering courses. Her research focuses on applying human factors, cognitive, and systems engineering tools to optimize the integration of humans in healthcare systems by designing human-centered processes and developing new tools to improve patient safety and healthcare quality in addition to engineering education.

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Shane Peterson

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Shane D. Peterson (Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis) is an Assistant Professor of German at Kennesaw State University in metro Atlanta. From 2015-18, he was a faculty member in the Eurotech dual-degree (Engineering & German Studies) program and living-learning community at the University of Connecticut. He regularly teaches a course on German for professional purposes.

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Ginny Zhan Kennesaw State University


Sabine Smith

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Dr. Sabine H. Smith is Professor of German and German Studies Program Coordinator at Kennesaw State University in the Department of World Languages and Cultures. She has over 30 years of teaching experience with a sustained research interest in cross-cultural comparisons. With approx. 50 publications and funded grants, she has been recognized for her expertise in local and international contexts. She facilitates in-class learning and study- and work-away programs in diverse and inclusive modalities. Most recently, her research has focused on learners’ development of intercultural competence via global learning experiences.

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Studies document that engineering students lack opportunities to develop and practice critical skills, such as interpersonal communication, due to limited program choices and curricular constraints. Despite ABET standards and industry needs, which identify communication skills development as a priority, engineering courses do not include targeted and differentiated assignments that allow learners to develop and hone these skills. We tested a guided interpersonal communication exercise for its suitability as a flexible skill building activity that can be repeated and integrated in any engineering course with a team component. We adapted the UNESCO Story Circles methodology to the specific experiences of our undergraduate engineering students to include discipline-specific prompts that structure and guide students’ oral exchanges in teams. 24 students participated in the 75-minute activity in ISYE 3125 “Statistical Quality Control” co-facilitated by the instructor with the help of a Co-PI. Upon completion, students responded to a 27-item, 5-point Likert scale questionnaire and 2 open-ended questions. The questionnaire included four-subscales: attitudes, communication, cultural diversity and teamwork. The overall internal consistency of the questionnaire achieved a satisfactory Cronbach Alpha of .88. All study participants responded very positively to the guided communication exercises (M = 4.03, SD = .36) and respondents’ support bridges participant demographics and course modalities across the four categories. The findings corroborate positive reviews by former participants and facilitators, especially for groups of university students from diverse cultural backgrounds. The findings from the pilot study indicate a positive trajectory: Intentional inclusion of guided, interpersonal communication exercises in engineering courses based on the UNESCO Story Circles methodology is appreciated by learners. The method offers a potential template for broad adoption in engineering programs due to its readily accessible, cost-free, and easily adaptable format for diverse instructional settings.

Ergai, A., & Peterson, S., & Zhan, G., & Smith, S. (2022, August), Improving Communication Skills in Global Engineers: Adapting the UNESCO Story Circles Method in Undergraduate Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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