Research and practical experience indicate that leadership and “people skills” play an important role in the success of organizations and in the careers of employees across many industries, including engineering. The Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering at Boise State University identified a need to expand available opportunities for its students to develop these critical “soft” skills. The approach taken sought to imitate how such training is conducted in the workplace, integrating it within a context of extended team-based projects. In partnership with the College of Innovation + Design’s Leadership Certificate Program, a series of sequential modules were developed and integrated into the Material Science and Engineering capstone curriculum (MSE 480 and 482) in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019. During the two-semester intervention, a Leadership instructor worked with the Engineering capstone students in seven key areas: Module 1: Introduction to emotional intelligence; Module 2: Effective communication; Module 3: Teambuilding; Module 4: Resolving conflict and giving feedback; Module 5: Development and goal setting; Module 6: Leadership and management; Module 7: Organizational culture and identifying culture fit. These modules were run at times that supported the immediate needs of project teams as they formed and worked.
Post-graduation, students were invited to complete a survey about their experiences with the intervention, with 12 out of 16 students responding (75%). Some of the survey questions focused on specific content and activities, while others measured the overall value of what they learned. The large majority of students believed they will need the information and skills they gained during these modules during their careers. Skills that were considered particularly important were emotional intelligence and communication. Teambuilding was rated well, though lower than all other skills. Student perceptions of skills acquired will be analyzed in the context of how they are valued in the workplace and Engineering Leadership literature.
As a result of the successes and opportunities for improvement derived from 2018-2019, the intervention will occur again in 2019-2020, adding mini-lessons during the sophomore and junior years. The long-term goal is to develop a high-impact program that can be used routinely in the School of Material Science Engineering. It may be attractive for other engineering programs to adopt, offer all engineering students the opportunity to gain self-awareness and learn how to work effectively with others before entering the workplace.
© 2020, American Society for Engineering Education, Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference, Virtual On line.
Ackler, Harold; Reeder, Heidi; and Louie, Abbey. (2020). "Integrating Professional Skills and Leadership into an Undergraduate Engineering Program". ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings, 2020-June, 31187-1 - 31187-10. https://dx.doi.org/10.18260/1-2--34846