Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day
January 24, 2021
January 24, 2021
January 28, 2021
Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions
Extended Abstract Background: From providing access to clean water to managing large-scale infrastructure projects, the grand challenges that engineers face in the modern world are equally technical and professional. To overcome these challenges, aspiring engineers must not only become experts on the technical aspects of their specific field but also develop their soft skills to enable leveraging their technical knowledge in an evolving, increasingly complex and globalized work environment. In today’s world, where multicultural teams are encouraged and considered the norm rather than an exception, technical professionals must be able to communicate effectively in order to realize their full potential . However, these skills have become stifled, as the typical engineering graduate spends approximately five years building her/his technical expertise, with little to no time devoted to human communication trainings . Evidence suggests that in the industry, graduate engineers lack the basic required communication skill sets to “hit the ground running” . These challenges can prove even greater for international students, underrepresented minority in STEM education, who often face extra barriers in the form of language, culture, and overall adjustments. As the demographics in the United States diversify and as international student enrollment continues to grow, higher education institutions have struggled to adapt to international students’ needs. Such institutions attempt to provide extracurricular skill trainings, yet such trainings are kept separate from the technical curriculum; moreover, most of the STEM coursework is heavily skewed towards writing, which ultimately hinders active engagement . That said, many international students including women and first generation students still lack the necessary professional/soft skills, particularly communication and presentation skills, which are vital skill sets required to convey technical information to diverse audiences. Numerous industry assessments confirm this fact, not to mention that minority students themselves attest that the formal communication skill is one of their primary shortcomings . Engineering curricula could integrate objective communication activities that make up for this gap and/or alternatively explore new pedagogies that encourage the development of minority students' professional skills . For this reason, this research seeks to advance STEM minorities’ formal communication and presentation skills through multi-context communication-training activities.
Purpose/Hypothesis: The purpose of this study is to (a) identify the major deficiencies in STEM students' communication skills specifically in a Florida International University (FIU), Minority-Serving Institution; (b) assess the effects of classroom-based targeted trainings on international, women and first generation STEM students’ presentation skills; and (c) analyze correlations between effectiveness and factors such as academic level, gender, and origin when implementing classroom-based targeted communication skill trainings.
Design/Method: To help underrepresented minorities in STEM further develop their communication and presentation skill sets, the study targeted approximately 400 FIU international, women and fist generation students over the course of an academic year. Those students were from four different upper and lower-level courses including undergraduate and graduate students. The four courses that implemented this pilot study are Principles of Construction Management, Sustainable Construction, Building Informatics, and Management of Construction Projects, which are all offered in the College of Engineering and Computing. Students in the four courses were required to take part in multiple classroom-based communication skill training activities. The activities include a lecture-style presentation skills training, a virtual reality simulation and a social media-centered activity. For this research study, the authors will focus solely on the lecture-style presentation skills training, which will offer students the opportunity to enhance their presentation performance, improve their confidence and overcome common presentation issues, such as glossophobia, unpreparedness, ineffective visuals, inappropriate content, distracting body language, lack of dynamism, etc. To analyze the effect of the lecture-style communication skill trainings, the research study deployed different evaluation methods divided into two phases. Phase One focuses on understanding minority students’ baseline presentation skills, while Phase Two monitors the students’ communication skills development.
Phase One evaluates the students' baseline communication training, to benchmark their progress. The evaluations are conducted through Qualtrics, a web-based tool to conduct survey research, evaluations, and other data collection activities. This phase is initiated through Self-Assessment Surveys, in which minority students evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, as well as provide their knowledge on the fundamentals of presenting. Then, prior to the lecture-style training activity, the students are required to give a presentation and are evaluated based on their performance, delivery, body language, and others. This evaluation consists of peer-evaluations, as well as detailed performance reports by university faculty. Additionally, the students will be provided with video recordings of their initial baseline performance, enabling them to identify and visualize their presentation flaws in the next phase.
Phase Two consists of a guided, Lecture-Style Communication Skills Training, conducted by a professional communication skill expert. The training includes, but is not limited to, various topics such as: (1) the elevator pitch - a type of presentation that entails describing an idea, topic or product in short periods of time; (2) complex information presentations - how to properly communicate information to diverse audiences; (3) emotion control; (4) storytelling - how to engage, motivate and inspire audiences through stories; and (5) visualization in presentation - how to effectively use visualization techniques. After the training activity, students are required to give another presentation to assess their presentation learning. For these post-training presentations, each student receives peer-evaluations along with faculty detailed presentation reviews. The data collected in both phases will be analyzed to assess the success of the targeted training on minority STEM students' skills development. Results: The proposed activities will create an engaging educational environment that enhances minority STEM students' communication skills thus honing their professional development. Their participation in the training increases their confidence, improves their performance and engagement, and allows them to develop sufficient skills to convey technical information to diverse audiences. The data obtained from the different surveys allows the authors to evaluate the activity's impact and acceptance, identifies the students' strengths and weaknesses, and evaluates their professional development and growth. Additionally, the research results provide valuable feedback and insight into the implementation of alternative learning pedagogies that integrate students’ development skills in lieu of STEM’s technical contents. Conclusion: To succeed as professionals in the United States and globally, minority STEM students must not only focus on their technical knowledge but also invest in developing their soft skills and specifically communication skills. Regardless of the field the student plans on developing a career in, essential communication skills will be required, and constant formal and informal presentations will take place; thus, to strive in such competitive working environments, students must focus on developing their soft skills. This research fosters the implementation of lecture-style communication skills training in engineering courses at FIU to analyze the impact on the students' professional development.
References:  M. Riemer, “English and Communication Skills for the Global Engineer,” Glob. J. Eng. Educ., vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 91–100, 2002.  P. SAGEEV and C. ROMANOWSKI, “A Message from Recent Engineering Graduates in the Workplace: Results of a Survey on Technical Communication Skills,” no. October, 2001.  S. Cerri, “EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS FOR ENGINEERS,” pp. 625–629, 2000.  S. Kim, “Academic oral communication needs of East Asian international graduate students in non-science and non-engineering fields,” English Specif. Purp., vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 479–489, 2006.  M. Elzomor and O. Youssef, “Coupling Haptic Learning with Technology To Advance Informal STEM Pedagogies,” Am. Soc. Eng. Educ.
ElZomor, M., & Santi, G., & Pradhananga, P., & Kayyali, M., & Zhang, L. (2021, January), Targeted Communication Trainings to Foster Minority Students’ Presentation Skills Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . https://peer.asee.org/36126
ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015