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Integrating Professional Skills and Leadership into an Undergraduate Engineering Program

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Designing and Implementing Leadership Development Experiences for Engineering Students

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development

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Paper Authors


Harold Ackler Boise State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Harold Ackler is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering at Boise State University. He teaches advanced undergraduate laboratory courses and manages the senior capstone program in the Micron School. He received BS and MS degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and his PhD degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1997), all in Materials Science and Engineering. He has over 13 years of experience working in industry where he learned how important hands-on education and professional development are for preparing students to succeed in the workplace.

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Heidi Reeder Boise State University

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Heidi Reeder is the Director of the Leadership Certificate programs in the College of Innovation and Design at Boise State University, and a Professor of Communication. As a social scientist her research interests include leadership, commitment, gender, and pedagogy. Her articles have been published in top communication and social psychology journals including Sex Roles, Communication Monographs, and the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. She earned a B.S. in communication from the University of Oregon, an M.A. in communication from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in communication from Arizona State University.

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Abbey Louie

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Research and practical experience indicate that leadership and “people skills” play an important role in the success of organizations and in the careers of employees across many industries, including engineering. The Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering at Boise State University identified a need to expand available opportunities for its students to develop these critical “soft” skills. The approach taken sought to imitate how such training is conducted in the workplace, integrating it within a context of extended team-based projects. In partnership with the College of Innovation + Design’s Leadership Certificate Program, a series of sequential modules were developed and integrated into the Material Science and Engineering capstone curriculum (MSE 480 and 482) in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019. During the two-semester intervention, a Leadership instructor worked with the Engineering capstone students in seven key areas: Module 1: Introduction to emotional intelligence; Module 2: Effective communication; Module 3: Teambuilding; Module 4: Resolving conflict and giving feedback; Module 5: Development and goal setting; Module 6: Leadership and management; Module 7: Organizational culture and identifying culture fit. These modules were run at times that supported the immediate needs of project teams as they formed and worked.

Post-graduation, students were invited to complete a survey about their experiences with the intervention, with 12 out of 16 students responding (75%). Some of the survey questions focused on specific content and activities, while others measured the overall value of what they learned. The large majority of students believed they will need the information and skills they gained during these modules during their careers. Skills that were considered particularly important were emotional intelligence and communication. Teambuilding was rated well, though lower than all other skills. Student perceptions of skills acquired will be analyzed in the context of how they are valued in the workplace and Engineering Leadership literature.

As a result of the successes and opportunities for improvement derived from 2018-2019, the intervention will occur again in 2019-2020, adding mini-lessons during the sophomore and junior years. The long-term goal is to develop a high-impact program that can be used routinely in the School of Material Science Engineering. It may be attractive for other engineering programs to adopt, offer all engineering students the opportunity to gain self-awareness and learn how to work effectively with others before entering the workplace.

Ackler, H., & Reeder, H., & Louie, A. (2020, June), Integrating Professional Skills and Leadership into an Undergraduate Engineering Program Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34846

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