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Leadership And Mentoring In Undergraduate Engineering Programs

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.389.1 - 3.389.8

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Paper Authors

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Willie E. (Skip) Rochefort

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2213

Leadership and Mentoring in Undergraduate Engineering Programs

Willie E. (Skip) Rochefort Chemical Engineering Department, Oregon State University

SUMMARY As educators we often ask our Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) which qualities and skills they would most like to see in new engineering graduates. Of course, good technical skills in the given discipline are always a priority and are what we as educators most closely monitor with our grading systems. However, following close behind are good oral and written communication skills, the ability to work in interdisciplinary teams, and leadership skills. In the chemical engineering department we have actively worked to introduce oral and written communication and group (team) work across the entire curriculum -- starting with the freshman orientation course all the way through to the capstone senior level laboratory. We are beginning to introduce interdisciplinary courses, where students bring their “domain competency” to a large team project. However, we have done very little in the way of focusing on putting the students in “true leadership positions” such as they might encounter in industry as group or project leaders responsible for several engineers.

The Leadership and Mentoring course was introduced in Winter '95 as a 1 credit course offered each quarter for sophomores, juniors, or seniors. This was also linked with the University Honors College series of 1 credit colloquia available to their students. There were several primary “drivers” for the introduction of such an opportunity for the students. The first, mentioned above, was the IAB request for development of student leadership skills. The second was retention of students in the chemical engineering program -- particularly minorities underrepresented in engineering. The “big brother/sister” concept to get new students involved with the department early through camaraderie with older students already committed to the ChE program. The third was purely practical and was based on the concept of “contextual learning” that we wanted to apply to our undergraduate courses -- more “hands-on” activities to accompany the classroom material and the lack of funding for TA positions. The undergraduate mentors provide the extra “hands” that are needed to introduce laboratory experiments within the context of a standard engineering lecture course -- “just in time” or “contextual” learning experiences.

All of these “drivers” can be accomplished by giving undergraduates the opportunity to be group leaders and/or mentors for their fellow undergraduates. This concept has been used in the freshman level course Introduction to Chemical Engineering with So., Jr. and Sr. mentors and the sophomore level courses Material Balances and Energy Balances with Jr. and Sr. mentors. Depending on the situation, the students from the L&M course act as Project Leaders for a group of 3-5 students; laboratory and computer teaching assistants; and in all cases mentors for the underclassman. In the freshman course they also assist with course development, scheduling of activities (OSU orientation, plant trips, library tours, etc.), writing instruction, computer instruction, and as “big brothers or sisters” to the freshman students. In each course where these mentors have been used, evaluations are conducted such that the students evaluate the mentors and their group members (peer evaluation), and the mentors evaluate the students. These evaluations are given a weighting in the final grade determination for both students and mentors. The results after ten quarters of use are encouraging, though not without some “glitches”. The “good, the bad....and the ugly” will be discussed in the presentation.

Rochefort, W. E. S. (1998, June), Leadership And Mentoring In Undergraduate Engineering Programs Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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