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Soft Skills Boot Camp: Designing a Three-day Student-run Seminar and Workshop Series for Graduate Students

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Student Division Technical Session 2

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Shelby Buffington Syracuse University


Ryan L. Falkenstein-Smith Syracuse University

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Ryan Falkenstein-Smith is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University. His research interests include ion transport membranes, carbon capture technology, and greenhouse gas control. Additionally, Ryan is highly invested in engineering education research, mainly finding innovative ways to improve student learning capabilities. His current work includes enhancing student skill sets through highlighting community resources, integrating micro-video content into engineering core curriculum as a supplement educational resource for undergraduate students. Ryan is also the recipient of the Syracuse University Graduate Fellowship and the NSF EAPSI Fellowship.

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Alexander Johnson Syracuse University


Katy Pieri Syracuse University

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Katy is a second year PhD student in the bioengineering program at Syracuse University.

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Alex Vincent Jannini Syracuse University

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Alex Jannini is a third-year PhD student at Syracuse University in the Biomedical and Chemical Engineering Department. His current research consists of developing tough and elastic double network hydrogels that have adhesive, self-healing, and biomimetic properties. His Master's research focused on implementing pharmaceutical engineering concepts into lab-based, introductory engineering courses. He has had experience in the classroom as an adjunct professor at Rowan University. In this role, he helped develop a series of experiments for a freshman engineering course that explored introductory engineering concepts through chocolate manufacturing, and another series of experiments involving dissolvable thin films for a similar course. Alex is also the president of the Syracuse University Chapter of ASEE, and has been working diligently with his executive board to provide seminars and workshops for their fellow graduate students. Alex's plans upon graduation involve becoming a professor or lecturer, specifically at a primarily undergraduate institution.

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A common challenge amongst the graduate student population is finding time to work on desirable soft skills that would create a more dynamic applicant for academic and industrial jobs. Between lectures, classes, research, and duties required for assistantships or fellowships, graduate students have little time left over to attend workshops or seminars to cultivate these proficiencies. This has been a noticed occurrence with scheduled events put on by our student chapter. To combat low attendance, we hosted a three-day “boot camp” between the spring and summer semesters. This was considered opportune timing because students did not have class and had less time constraints, as they were transitioning from lesser to greater research responsibilities. Students were required to register for the event ahead of time using an online form, which also allowed us determine beforehand how many students to expect. The objectives of this event were to: 1) increase graduate students’ proficiencies in research- and career-related soft skills; 2) connect students with available campus resources; and 3) increase networking and communication between the engineering departments. To determine what topics should be covered, two separate surveys were used; one that asked students to identify what topics they believed would benefit them the most, and one from the faculty on what developmental needs they saw for their students. Based on this data, a finalized set of seminars and workshops were developed, which covered topics such as writing skills, citation management, responsible conduct of research, making effective figures, time management, and oral communication. Guest speakers were all faculty and staff members from the university, including professors from the College of Engineering and School of Public Communications, and the University Library. Pre- and post-event surveys were used to gather audience enthusiasm and confidence in their skills. Overall, positive feedback was gathered both before and after the retreat. Our chapter plans on running this program again with some changes to the skills that will be discussed. We will also change the scheduling of the event so that it takes place one day per week for three weeks, as opposed to three consecutive days, in an effort to boost attendance.

Buffington, S., & Falkenstein-Smith, R. L., & Johnson, A., & Pieri, K., & Jannini, A. V. (2018, June), Soft Skills Boot Camp: Designing a Three-day Student-run Seminar and Workshop Series for Graduate Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30974

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