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Training Civil Engineers to Communicate Effectively

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Public Policy in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Engineering and Public Policy

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1539.1 - 22.1539.15



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Paper Authors


Maria Dawn Blevins University of Utah

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Department of Communication, Ph.D. Student,
CLEAR Consultant for University of Utah, School of Engineering

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Training Civil Engineers to Communicate Effectively in the Public Participation ProcessPurposeCivil engineers are responsible for many of the public works projects sponsored by local,state, and federal agencies. Making sure the technical requirements are satisfied and thatsafe and effective designs are created is an important aspect of engineering. However,since the 1970 passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, governmental agenciesare required to perform a public scoping process that includes making plans available forpublic review, sponsoring dedicated time for public comment, and holding at least onepublic meeting. Engineering professionals working for governmental agencies andprivate firms are responsible for facilitating and participating in public meetings at somepoint during their career. Although participating in the public participation process is animportant aspect of being an engineering professional, little training in leading publicmeetings is provided to students in engineering programs. This project synthesizesinformation about effectively conducting public meetings. Through a review of publicmeeting literature, observations of public meetings, and interviews with engineers whoconduct meetings as part of their job, I developed innovative communication instructionto teach best practices for public meeting facilitation.BackgroundResearch indicates that the execution of effective public meetings can have a great effecton public policy and projects.1 Tepper (2004) found that the “right kind” of publicmeeting “can matter very much.”1 Dewey (1927) postulated that keeping a watchful andcritical eye on public officials is a key aspect of the democratic process.2 the publicmeeting is important to effective governmental processes, and civil engineers areexpected to lead and participate in this forum. However this skill set is not prioritized inthe engineering curriculum, making presenting to a potently angry public difficult for anew engineer. Thus, a curricula that teaches students how to lead public meetings willbenefit any civil engineering program. This unique form of public speaking requirescareful audience analysis, good listening skills, subtle persuasive tactics, and savvyhandling of questions. In short, developing the communication and interpersonal skillsnecessary for conducting public meetings is crucial to prepare civil engineers for thisimportant aspect of their jobs.Project DescriptionThrough this project, I developed an applied learning module to teach civil engineeringstudents best practices for conducting public meetings. Preliminary findings indicate thatspecific communication techniques can be applied to make public meetings productiveand useful, including: - Creating good working relationships with community members - Being prepared to answer difficult questions - Being prepared for some hostility and fear, and allowing people to be heard - Using active listening skills - Going to the public early and keeping them aware of how the project is progressing - Admitting when you are wrong -Sharing information with people to foster a trusting relationship 3 - Creating a strategy for structuring participation4In this paper, I will present background information on public participation andengineering. Next, I will present the results of my research (interviews and observations),and finally, I will provide a learning module on facilitating public meetings. In short,civil engineers must be savvy communicators, able to facilitate effective, productivepublic meetings. This research and curriculum development represents a first step topreparing new engineers for this important task.References1. Tepper, S.J. (2004). Setting agendas and designing alternatives: Policymaking and thestrategic role of meetings. Review of Policy Research, 21, 523-542.2. Dewey, J. (1927). The public and its problems. New York: Henry Holt and Company.3. Schaub, L. (2010). Cooperative group solutions. Community, 147, 10-12.4. Tracy, K. (2007). The discourse of cris is in public meetings: Case study of a schooldistricts multimillion dollar error. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 35, 418-441.

Blevins, M. D. (2011, June), Training Civil Engineers to Communicate Effectively Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18583

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