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Technical Communications in an Environmental Engineering Curriculum: A Framework for Analysis and Continual Improvement

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Emphasizing Communication and the Humanities in Environmental Engineering

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Caleb James McCollum United States Military Academy


Andrew Ross Pfluger United States Military Academy Orcid 16x16

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Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Pfluger, U.S. Army, is an Assistant Professor and Academy Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the United States Military Academy. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from USMA, a M.S. and Engineer Degree in Environmental Engineering and Science from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. He is a licensed PE in the state of Delaware.

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Michael A. Butkus United States Military Academy

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Michael A. Butkus is a professor of environmental engineering at the U.S. Military Academy. His work has been focused on engineering education and advancements in the field of environmental engineering. His current research interests are in physicochemical treatment processes with recent applications in drinking water disinfection, lead remediation, sustainable environmental engineering systems, and contaminant transport. Butkus is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and he is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Connecticut.

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The ability to effectively communicate technical information is an important skill for engineers, especially young engineers entering the workforce upon completion of their education. Undergraduate environmental engineering programs normally address technical communications, but some do not provide intentionally placed discipline-specific technical communication experiences designed to progressively increase communication skills through the curriculum. Conducting a crosswalk of graded events with a technical communication component across a curriculum can help an institution understand the placement of technical communication graded events and identify opportunities for improvement. This study presents a survey-based approach for gathering information about all technical communication graded events within an environmental engineering curriculum and a method for analysis using a longitudinal crosswalk of all applicable courses from freshman to senior year. Results from this study indicate that the number of graded technical communication events in our program increases longitudinally from freshman to senior year. Further, the number of individually completed events and written events were highest in the sophomore year, with team events and oral communication events increasing in the junior and senior years. Additionally, the weighting of graded events shifted longitudinally through major courses. Graded events worth < 5% of the course grade were most prevalent in the sophomore year, and events worth ≥ 5% occurred most frequently in the senior year. Implications for our university’s environmental engineering program are discussed, to include opportunities for scaffolding events across courses. The methods presented in this study can be used by other environmental engineering programs to identify gaps in technical communication education and methods for improvement within their curriculum.

McCollum, C. J., & Pfluger, A. R., & Butkus, M. A. (2020, June), Technical Communications in an Environmental Engineering Curriculum: A Framework for Analysis and Continual Improvement Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35287

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