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Scaling and Sustaining of a Liberal Arts Speaking Course That Targets Engineering Students

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Communication I: History and Praxis

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Marcy Bloom Milhomme Pennsylvania State University

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I am an Assistant Teaching Professor for subjects like rhetorical analysis, civic engagement, individual public speaking, small group communication and I'm the Lead Instructor for public speaking for engineers, where I teach engineers how to develop a technical message but for a non-technical audience. I've also worked in industry, where I developed training programs and other organizational development solutions for common workplace problems. My career has been full of variety with the salient point being a passion for teaching and helping all individuals overcome common communication challenges.

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Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University

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Michael Alley is a professor of teaching for engineering communications at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Writing (Springer, 2018) and The Craft of Scientific Presentations (Springer-Verlag, 2013). He is also founder of the popular websites Writing as an Engineer or Scientist ( and the Assertion-Evidence Approach (

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Lori B. Miraldi Pennsylvania State University

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Director of the Engineering Ambassadors Program
College of Engineering
Penn State University

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Many studies have pointed to the importance of oral communication as a skill for engineers [1-5]. In contrast, many other studies have pointed to a gap in the preparation of engineers to present. For instance, at Ohio State University, a survey of 2,100 engineering alumni [6] ranked the importance of communicating orally as 4.30 (out of 5) in importance, but rated their preparation in the skills as only 3.26. Likewise, respondents in a survey of 243 electrical engineers [4] report that “engineering programs rarely required them to demonstrate skills in public speaking, presentation, or interpersonal communication” (pp. 38 – 39). While most engineering curricula do not require a course in public speaking, __________ has since the 1960s for all undergraduates, including engineers. However, our surveys of engineering students have found that they by and large do not see the connections between that required course and the presentations that engineers do. In 2007, to address this disconnect, the College of Engineering in collaboration with the Communication Arts & Sciences piloted a version of the course that targeted engineers. For the two sections of engineering students (about 50 students) who enrolled, the course was a success [6]. This paper presents the scaling of that Communication Arts & Sciences course that targets engineering students from 2 sections in 2007 to 14 sections in 2020. In particular, the paper focuses on the collaboration of the College of Engineering with the Department of Communication Arts & Sciences to scale the engineering version of the course to 14 sections per semester (about 350 students). During this scaling, much emphasis was placed on maintaining the quality across all sections. Our collaboration with this department in the College of Liberal Arts could serve as a model for other engineering colleges seeking similar targeted courses.


1. Reave, L. (2004). Technical communication instruction in engineering schools: A survey of top-ranked U.S. and Canadian programs. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 18 (4), 452 – 490. 2. Sageev, P., & Romanowski, C. J. (2001). A message from recent engineering graduates in the marketplace: Results of a survey on technical communication skills. Journal of Engineering Education, 90, 685-697. 3. Pinelli, T. E., Barclay, R. O., Keene, M. L., Kennedy, J. M.,&Hecht, L. F. (1995). From student to entry-level professional: Examining the role of language and written communications in the reacculturation of aerospace engineering students. Technical Communication, 42, 492 – 507. 4. Vest, D., Long, M., & Anderson, T. (1996). Electrical engineers’ perceptions of communication training and their recommendation for curricular change: Results of a national survey. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 39, 38 – 42. 5. Darling, A. L., & Dannels, D. P. (2003). Practicing engineers talk about the importance of talk: A report on the role of oral communication in the workplace. Communication Education, 52, 1 – 13. 6. Core Curriculum and Undergraduate Services Committee. (2003, June). Proposal for revising the general education component of engineering undergraduate curricula. Retrieved November 12, 2003, from 7. _________________ (2011). __________________________________________________ __________________________________. 2011 ASEE Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Milhomme, M. B., & Alley, M., & Miraldi, L. B. (2021, July), Scaling and Sustaining of a Liberal Arts Speaking Course That Targets Engineering Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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