June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
In 2016, a multidisciplinary team at Carnegie Mellon University piloted a program to teach core communication skills in a flexible, modularized way to undergraduate students participating in summer undergraduate research experiences. The team consisted of faculty from the department of English and the college of engineering as well as staff from the centralized undergraduate research office, the writing and communications center, and the career center. The professional communication seminar blended learning and practicing core component skills for written, oral, and visual communication, with an emphasis on strategies for communicating complex research.
Considered a work in progress, this lunchtime workshop series was designed to teach core communication skills through a series of non-evaluative real-world activities and genres focused on public communication of research. The program culminated in a 3-minute research presentation (3MRP) modeled after the international 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition for doctoral students. The opening session focused on strategies to concisely “sound bite” complex research for different contexts and audiences. This was followed by a module about translating professional autobiographies into brief written self-portraits that blend professional and personal skills. The third session introduced participants to the 3MRP competition grounded in a discussion of rhetorical moves to convey the novelty of research to non-expert audiences. The final session and 3MRP collectively gave students the opportunity to synthesize what they had learned in written form via resumes that communicate professional stories to busy readers and in oral and visual form via the 3MRP presentations.
A total of 100 students were eligible to the participate in the pilot program including those who received centralized summer undergraduate research fellowship funding, participated in a pilot summer undergraduate research experience program for engineering students, and received senior honors fellowship funding for research in the humanities and social sciences. Participation was especially high across all sessions for the 45 engineering students who participated in the pilot. 35.6% of these students attended every session and 84.4% participated in at least four of the five meetings. 84.4% of eligible engineering students participated in the 3MRP. All three winners of the 3MRP were engineering students.
Pre- and post-program assessments focused specifically on students who worked on a project in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) discipline during summer 2016. All engineering students who were affiliated with one of the aforementioned summer undergraduate research programs were invited to participate. These assessments were designed to measure participants’ beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions regarding their professional communication skills. 42.8% of eligible participants including 18 engineering students completed both the pre- and post-program surveys. Chi-square analyses indicated that study respondents approximate the overall study population in terms of university college affiliation, funding source, and class year. Results suggest that participation in the professional communication seminar recalibrated students’ self-assessment of their written and oral communication skills.
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