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International Students and Engineering Departments Facing the Speak Test

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

International Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.801.1 - 24.801.6



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Paper Authors


Craig J. Gunn Michigan State University

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Craig Gunn is the Director of the Communication Program in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He integrates communication skill activity into all courses within the mechanical Engineering program. He is editor of the CEED Newsbriefs and has co-authored numerous textbooks, including - Engineering Your Future.

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Pavel M. Polunin Michigan State University

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Pavel Polunin is a Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering Department at Michigan State University. He obtained his M.S. in 2013 from Michigan State University. Currently, he conducts research in the area of nonlinear dynamics of noise-driven microresonators.

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International Students and Engineering Departments Facing the Speak TestInternational students face an interesting dilemma when arriving at many universities, where inorder to be able to perform as teaching assistants they must take and hopefully pass a form ofexam in many schools called “The Speak Test.” It is required by many universities that feel it isimportant to know the level of the graduate students who will be placed in positions ofimportance in the learning of undergraduates. Tests taken outside the country or even reports onthe performance of graduate students who have spent time in the US still require a “taking of thetest.” For students who are given the opportunity to spend any time in the role of instructor,whether it be in front of small lab sessions or larger classes, the need for both an understandingof English and the ways to convey it are critical in American academia. Lab sections and classesfilled with domestic students have to be provided with instructors who are able to present thetechnical information in a manner that will keep the course’s students comfortable and provide areasonable atmosphere for learning. It is also critical that the teaching assistants be able tofunction within an atmosphere that is conducive for their own learning to continue. Over thepast years entering international graduate students in the Department of Mechanical Engineeringat XXX who have been assigned to jobs as teaching assistants in the various required laboratorycourses in the department must first perform at a reasonable level on The Speak Test. If they areable to respond verbally to a variety of questions and scenarios, they are then deemed suitable toperform as instructors. If they do not quite reach the level of acceptance, they can petition for aface-to-face speak appeal. If the results are much less than desirable, then they must wait untilthe beginning of the next semester to try again. This puts the department that expected them to bein the lab for the semester under the pressure of finding something else for them to do that doesnot require contact with undergraduates.This paper looks closely at the underlying problems of incoming graduate students who areexpected to communicate well with undergraduate populations. It focuses not on theinadequacies of speaking English but more on the ways in which a department can refocus thespeak test requirements from what is perceived to be inadequacies to simply addressingrelatively easy fix elements. The paper will address graduate student performance, methods tohelp the incoming graduate student, the speak test rationale, and the graduate students reaction tothe communication requirements of the university. The paper also addresses the growing numberof undergraduate students who might benefit from the findings of work with the internationalgraduate student.

Gunn, C. J., & Polunin, P. M. (2014, June), International Students and Engineering Departments Facing the Speak Test Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20693

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