Asee peer logo

Improving the Public Communication Skills of Graduate Students

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Communication: From Pecha Kucha to Bullets

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.842.1 - 22.842.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Craig W. Somerton Michigan State University

visit author page

Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. He has also taught the capstone design course for the department. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, appropriate technology, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

visit author page


Craig J. Gunn Michigan State University

visit author page

Craig Gunn is the Director of the Communication Program in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. His duties include the integration of communication skill activity into all courses within the mechanical Engineering program, including overseas experiences. He works closely with the Cooperative Engineering Education Division of the College of Engineering to monitor the communication skills of students who co-op during their college years. He is currently the editor of the CEED Newsbriefs and is co-author of a number of textbooks focusing on engineering freshmen orientation.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Improving the Public Communication Skills of Graduate StudentsMore and more engineers have found themselves in the situation of communicating theirtechnical work directly with the public. This might include press briefings, customerinteractions, or government hearings. Often the engineers who are involved in thesecommunications are graduate level (M.S. or Ph.D.) engineers. We have undertaken a setof classroom exercises whose goal is to improve the communication abilities of graduatestudents when talking to the public.The “Hot or Not” course assignments that were made in a graduate level course in heatconduction asked the students to explain in a 500 word essay a mystery of heat transfer,and to do it at the level of a nontechnical, educated person. Four such assignments weremade and included the mysteries of: • Why does metal feel cold? • How does water freeze when the ambient temperature is above freezing? • Ice or water and ice to cool a champagne magnum? • What cools faster, black coffee or creamed coffee?The assignments are graded by the director of communication for the Department ofMechanical Engineering, who has years of experience in teaching and editing technicalcommunication, but is not formally educated in a technical field. The assignments aregraded with a rubric that includes:Correctness of Explanation (20%)Clarity of Explanation (30%)Brevity of Explanation (5%)Technical Level of Explanation (15%)English Usage (30%)The grader is provided with an explanation of the mystery by the course instructor. Thestudents are given 2 weeks to complete the assignment and the course instructoraddresses the assignment at least twice during lecture time.Student progress in monitored and mistakes in English usage are tracked. Studentfeedback was collected at the end of the course,

Somerton, C. W., & Gunn, C. J. (2011, June), Improving the Public Communication Skills of Graduate Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18123

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015