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Understanding the Gap Between Communication in the Classroom and Communication During an Industrial Internship

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Problem Solving and Communication in Chemical Engineering

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Sarah A. Wilson University of Kentucky

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Sarah Wilson is a lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Kentucky. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Rowan University in New Jersey before attending graduate school for her PhD at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. Sarah conducted her thesis research on the production of the anti-cancer compound Paclitaxel (Taxol) through the use of plant cell cultures from the Taxus Yew Tree. Throughout her time at Rowan and UMass, she developed a passion for undergraduate education. This passion led her to pursue a career as a lecturer, where she could focus on training undergraduate chemical engineering students. She has been teaching at UK since 2015 and has taught Fluid Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Computational Tools and the Unit Operations Laboratory. She is especially interested in teaching scientific communication and integration of process safety into the chemical engineering curriculum.

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While it is known that development of expansive communication skills is critical to a successful career in engineering, teaching these skills continues to be a challenge in the classroom. Recently, ABET has updated the engineering communication outcome to include communication to a wide range of audiences. While this highlights the importance of diverse communication skills, most traditional engineering curriculum focus on technical report and presentation skills targeted at an expert audience. To develop a curriculum that meets the updated ABET requirement while providing students with the communication skills necessary to become successful practicing engineers, a better understanding of industrial communication requirements must be established. Through this work, a survey was developed for engineering students who have completed industrial internships, with a goal of understanding communication requirements in industry. Students were asked to identify both audience and means of communication used throughout their internship, as well as how effective their classroom learning, and internships were at preparing them for these forms of communication. Results showed that student interns interacted most with other engineers (of same and different discipline), as well as non-engineers with both technical and non-technical backgrounds. The most frequently used forms of communication were informal conversations, meeting discussions and both formal and informal email. Over 87% of respondents indicated that formal presentations or technical reports were used rarely (2-3 times per month) or less. Of these, 36% indicated that they never completed a formal presentation and 60% that they never wrote a technical report. Overall, students felt that that their internships were more effective at teaching communication to all audiences and through all forms of communication than their classroom learning. These results highlight the current gap that exists between classroom teaching and student experiences in industry, particularly with regard to communication with non-technical employees and through less formal means (informal discussions, phone calls, etc.). Moving forward, engineering curriculum must be developed to more clearly align with these industrial communication needs.

Wilson, S. A. (2019, June), Understanding the Gap Between Communication in the Classroom and Communication During an Industrial Internship Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33481

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