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The Impact of Professional Communications Training on Teamwork and Leadership Skills for Engineering Capstone Teams

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Professional Skills and Teaming in Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Todd W. Polk University of Texas, Dallas

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Dr. Todd Polk is a Senior Lecturer in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Texas at Dallas. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University. He received his Master of Science and Doctoral degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Dallas. Todd has over 25 years of industry experience in design, test, applications, sales and management. After joining UT Dallas in 2013, he developed the capstone course sequence in the newly-formed Bioengineering department and has been responsible for teaching it since. Todd also serves as a Director for the UTDesign program, which facilitates resource sharing and corporate sponsorship of projects for all engineering disciplines at the university. He attended the Capstone Design Conference in 2014 and 2016, and is an active member of IEEE and EMBS.

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Margaret Garnett Smallwood University of Texas, Dallas

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I am a Senior Lecturer II in the Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas. I teach three business communication courses to undergraduate students. I have an MBA in international management and marketing from UTD and a bachelor's in communications from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Prior to joining UTD in 2013, I worked in corporate communications, marketing communications and public relations.

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Jeanne Sluder

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Robert Hart P.E. University of Texas, Dallas


Joe Pacheco Jr. University of Texas, Dallas

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Dr. Joe Pacheco Jr is a member of the teaching faculty in the Bioengineering Department at The University of Texas at Dallas (2014 to present) where his teaching includes freshman-level introductory bioengineering courses, upper-division circuits and microcontroller programming courses, and senior level capstone courses. Previously, he was a member of the technical staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (2004-2013) in the Advanced Capabilities and Systems Group. Dr. Pacheco receive the B.S., M. Eng., and PhD degrees all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Electrical Engineering.

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Experience has shown that one of the biggest challenges facing engineering capstone teams is team members learning to work together effectively. This is compounded when the team is comprised of students from multiple engineering disciplines.

Our engineering capstone curriculum has always included training on team dynamics and team conflict that has been taught by the capstone engineering professors. Three years ago, we decided to bring in outside experts to lecture on topics such as project management, ethics and standards to augment the training for our capstone students. The following year we decided to extend this concept and turned to experts trained in the field of business communications to better train students in how to effectively operate as a team.

This paper describes an ongoing pilot project to integrate professional training on team dynamics, team conflict and team leadership into our existing engineering capstone curriculum. Business Communications professors from the School of Management developed curriculum and presented to engineering students in the Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering departments. The initial single training session two years ago on all these topics has expanded into multiple training sessions – one on team charters and team dynamics, a second session on team conflict and resolution and a third on formal presentation training. A “Team Health Checklist” has been developed to quickly gather feedback from the team members on their impressions about how their team is functioning. The Team Health Checklist is completed by all students during the second training session, and the results are tabulated to provide an assessment of team progress. Finally, all of the project team leaders attend a fourth training session/roundtable on team leadership in small groups to discuss issues without the engineering professors present. The results and comments from the Team Health Checklist are discussed with the team leaders, and coaching is provided to help them improve as leaders.

We will also discuss the results of the survey we have administered which has helped us determine the effectiveness of this professional training program. The survey focuses on each team member’s impression of the change in attitudes, communications and abilities of the team before and after the training. Team leaders complete an additional section of the survey focused on their impressions of how and if the training has helped them perform better as the leader of the team.

Polk, T. W., & Smallwood, M. G., & Sluder, J., & Hart, R., & Pacheco, J. (2017, June), The Impact of Professional Communications Training on Teamwork and Leadership Skills for Engineering Capstone Teams Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28976

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