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Using Writing To Improve Retention: Communications Assignments In A Freshman Year Experience Course For Engineers

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.709.1 - 5.709.10



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Paper Authors

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Molly M. Gribb

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Elisabeth M. Alford

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3653

Using Writing to Improve Retention: Rethinking the Purposes of Communications Assignments in the Freshman Year Experience Course for Engineers

Elisabeth M. Alford, Molly M. Gribb University of South Carolina


From its inception in 1997, the University of South Carolina’s freshman year experience for engineers (University 101-Engineering) has included report writing and presentation assignments to introduce students to technical communications principles. In 1999, engineering faculty collaborated with writing professionals in creating writing-related activities that would serve the broader goals of the course: helping students succeed and stay in engineering. These new listening, reading, writing and oral communications assignments introduce freshmen to the excitement of engineering and help them envision themselves as engineers. Many of the assignments focus on the relevance of science and math to the challenging and creative work of engineering.

This paper explains a sequence of communications assignments that encourage critical thinking and reflection about the intellectual and practical dimensions of engineering. The first group of assignments integrates practice in Internet searching, listening, note taking, responsive writing, reading and academic writing as students inquire into connections between engineers and scientists. The second group of assignments allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between science and engineering through inclusion of theory, design, and explanatory text in written and oral reports on a design project. The final exam, as earlier assignments, includes an essay focusing on the relationship between science and engineering.

Focusing on the theme of science and engineering throughout the course helps students appreciate the heavy emphasis on science and math in the engineering curriculum, as well as the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering projects. In addition, using a common theme for assignments throughout the semester aids in assessment of students’ progress and evolving attitudes toward engineering as a course of study and as a profession. Preliminary evaluation of students’ writing in the course suggests that the assignments effectively engaged some students in exploring the broad opportunities that engineering careers offer. The activities also provided students a venue for reflecting on their learning experiences and communicating their enthusiasm for specific engineering projects and disciplines.


In 1997, the University of South Carolina College of Engineering initiated University 101- Engineering (UN101-E), a version of USC’s Freshman Year Experience course designed to help first-year engineering students adjust to college and to the demanding engineering curriculum. The UN101-E syllabus was packed with helpful topics: an introduction to engineering, study skills, computer tools, responsible behavior, a service-oriented team design project, and

Gribb, M. M., & Alford, E. M. (2000, June), Using Writing To Improve Retention: Communications Assignments In A Freshman Year Experience Course For Engineers Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8826

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