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Work in Progress: The Professional Development Track: A Cooperative Experiential Learning Approach to Academic Success for Underserved Engineering Students

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 4: Professional Development in Undergraduate Programs

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Alejandro Gutierrez University of California, Merced Orcid 16x16

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Dr Gutiérrez is a teaching professor at UC Merced, where he runs the Capstone Design Program in the School of Engineering. This program is the culminating experience for all students in mechanical engineering, civil & environmental engineering, bioengineering, and materials science. All projects in the UC Merced Capstone Design Program are initiated by industry partners, and the main goal of the program is to provide students with real-life engineering challenges before graduation.

Dr Gutiérrez focuses his efforts on accelerating the academic success of underrepresented and first generation students, creating professional development opportunities for undergraduate students, and implementing best practices for engineering education.

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Christopher A. Butler University of California, Merced

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Since 2012, Christopher Butler has served as the Assistant Director of the Engineering Service Learning program at the University of California, Merced. In this time as Assistant Director, the Engineering Service Learning program has provided design experience to more than 1,800 students, completed over 15 community facing engineering student-lead projects, and produced more than 200,000 community service hours. Butler brings faculty and industry partners together to mentor and support these student projects as students gain real-world experiences the necessary skills for future careers.

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Abbas Ghassemi University of California, Merced

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Dr. Ghassemi is a Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering and is currently a faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California Merced. He serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Utilization, and Environmental Effects Journal. . His area of expertise and interest includes renewable energy, advanced water treatment, carbon cycle including carbon generation and management, and biofuels. He has extensive expertise in education, research, and outreach in energy resources including water quality and quantity, renewable energy and environmental issues. His research areas of interest include risk-based decision making, renewable energy and water, carbon management and sequestration, energy efficiency and pollution prevention, multiphase flow and process control.

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Abundant evidence demonstrates that students who can engage in realistic industry-relevant projects throughout their majors achieve greater success in terms of time to graduation, job placement, and advancing to higher positions once hired. This is particularly true of first generation and underserved minority students. This is due in part to these students not having access to such experiences on their own outside their academic programs At the University of California Merced the authors have been developing a Professional Development Track within the School of Engineering by combining Engineering Service Learning and Capstone Design courses into a cohesive and cumulative trajectory with uniform goals, practices, metrics, and management strategies. Throughout the Professional Development Track, students work on real-life engineering problems presented by industry and non-profit partners under the supervision of faculty. This unified approach allows students to collaborate with recurring partners on projects of increasing complexity, work on the same large project in different capacities as their experience and skills grow, and explore different areas of the engineering profession in a systematic approach. While on this track, students receive mentorship from faculty and are invited to participate in off-campus professional development events such as conferences and networking summits. Additionally, students learn from each other by collaborating with their peers who are at different points on their career pathway. The Professional Development Track seeks to ensure students are adequately prepared for the workforce upon graduation. By the time students begin the job application process during their senior year, they will already have experience with multiple engineering projects, enhanced technical communication and presentation skills, CV and cover letter writing, and interview and presentation techniques. Students will also have led professional groups, attended conferences, and engaged different audiences. They will have worked on at least one engineering project from beginning to end and will have contributed to multiple projects over time. These landmarks are essential to professional success and constitute some of the most important requirements to quickly and successfully join the workforce. The continuous mentorship, guidance, and experience created by the Professional Development Track allows faculty to work with specific students throughout their academic path, thereby increasing retention and graduation rates. The Professional Development Track also allows industry partners to easily interact with students and faculty, providing training and support to different groups simultaneously and helping prepare students for workforce participation.

Gutierrez, A., & Butler, C. A., & Ghassemi, A. (2019, June), Work in Progress: The Professional Development Track: A Cooperative Experiential Learning Approach to Academic Success for Underserved Engineering Students Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33655

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