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Teaching empathy through a stakeholder-focused engineering communications course

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Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference



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April 9, 2021

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April 9, 2021

End Date

April 10, 2021

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Jennie Perey Saxe University of Delaware

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Jennie Perey Saxe is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware. Dr. Saxe is primarily focused on undergraduate instruction, teaching classes on engineering communication, solid waste management, air pollution control, industrial ecology, and more. In addition to infusing her public sector experience – nearly 14 years with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Atlantic (Region 3) Office – into her classes, she also draws on lessons learned from her experience as an ASCE ExCEEd Teaching Fellow. Stakeholder engagement and environmental justice issues are critical issues for civil and environmental engineers and these topics are woven into Dr. Saxe’s courses and into her research portfolio. Dr. Saxe is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Engineering Education, and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors. She is also co-advisor of the University of Delaware’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA. She received her BSPH from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her MAS and PhD from the University of Delaware.

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Civil and environmental engineers have the responsibility to not only design and build infrastructure critical to public health, safety, and commerce, but also the responsibility to effectively communicate with diverse stakeholders affected by or interested in our work. In 2019, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) updated the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge (CEBOK) to, among other changes, update the communication skills needed by engineers entering practice and the competencies that a new engineer should develop as they progress through their professional career. In addition, this Third Edition of the CEBOK (CEBOK3) emphasizes that engineers should also develop an appreciation for effective communication and demonstrate key abilities related to the affective domain. With the importance of communication to future engineers’ practice of civil engineering clearly defined, undergraduate curricula must adapt to meet this need. At [UNIVERSITY], the civil engineering curriculum included significant communication content prior to the issuance of the CEBOK3. However, the standard communication coursework of public speaking and technical writing left a gap in critical communication competencies needed for successful civil and environmental engineering practice. To address this gap, the civil engineering curriculum added a new course entitled Communicating with Stakeholders in Engineering. This course covers topics including communication theory, stakeholder identification, communicating through conflict, communication planning, implicit bias, public engagement principles, and more. The content was selected to fill the gaps in traditional communication classes taken by civil engineering students to expose students to tools and approaches to workplace communication and communication with public stakeholder groups. The topics covered in the course allow students to develop an understanding of and gain extensive practice with written and in-person communication skills. This practice is critical for the students to learn about themselves as communicators and about the audience they are communicating with. Engagement with the practice of communication at this level also requires an understanding of how humans communicate, needs that humans have, and professional obligations to society, all of which contribute to development of empathy in civil engineers. Spring 2021 represents only the third offering of the class, and the first as a required element of the civil engineering curriculum; therefore, it remains a work in progress. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the course has also evolved from its original in-person format to a synchronous online delivery model. This paper describes course content, delivery, interactive activities, and student feedback to date, and in doing so offers a model for similar course development in other engineering curricula.

Saxe, J. P. (2021, April), Teaching empathy through a stakeholder-focused engineering communications course Paper presented at Middle Atlantic ASEE Section Spring 2021 Conference, Virtual . 10.18260/1-2--36321

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