BEYOND THE CLASSROOM AND INTO THE WORKPLACE: A LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR MINORITY ENGINEERING STUDENTS AT NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY
North Carolina State University (UNITED STATES)
The Minority Engineering Program within the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, North Carolina, aims to remove the barriers that prevent African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students from succeeding in engineering and computer science. Barriers include academic under-preparedness due to, for example, a student’s high school not offering certain math courses, or due to lack of family or financial support. According to Angelitha Daniel, Director of Minority Engineering, minority students comprise about 10% of the undergraduate enrollment of the College of Engineering, or about 135 minority students at NCSU. As one way of accomplishing this goal, some minority students participate in the Summer Transition Program (STP), during which students live on campus for five weeks before Fall Semester begins and take classes, establish support networks, acclimate themselves to campus life, etc.
As part of STP, a rigorous Academic Writing Workshop prepares students for the type of writing that they’ll need to do in their required introductory writing course and, to a lesser extent, in the workplace.
Goals typically include the following:
• working productively on a team,
• using library databases and attributing sources accurately,
• analyzing information,
• writing, preparing visual aids, and formatting a report, and
• preparing a collaborative presentation.
During Summer 2014, a particularly ambitious project was undertaken that attempted to fulfill other, broader goals of MEP: to enable students to understand more about the daily lives of professional engineers, to understand the value of a professional network, and to sustain the STP community by involving alumni in the project.
Students were divided into teams according to their prospective majors. Each student was provided the name and contact information of a minority engineering graduate; most were young STP alumni. Student teams were first required to prepare interview questions that focused primarily on the types of communication required of engineers in the workplace. They also developed questions about types of projects, daily activities, and possibilities for career advancements that interviewees experienced in the workplace. Then each student interviewed the assigned alum. The team also used library resources to learn about industry trends in their chosen area of engineering. The team then prepared a report on their findings, analyzing information about the amount and types of communication in engineering professions, the impact of technology on communication, etc. Alumni were invited to final presentations during which each student was required to speak and address questions.
The project proved enriching beyond expectations. Not only were student reports and presentations exceptionally strong in terms of academic standards, but also in the realization that strong communication skills are extremely important in engineering. Students established a connection and, in some cases, a potential mentor, in their chosen field. They were able to learn much more about what engineers actually do. And most important, they were able to see themselves as successful engineers someday.
As the project evolves, plans include examining the long-term influence of this project on communication skills, professional networking, and alumni involvement.