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WHEN THE CLASSROOM ISN’T ENOUGH: ENABLING MINORITY ENGINEERING STUDENTS TO SEE THEMSELVES IN THE WORKPLACE

B. Pittman

North Carolina State University (UNITED STATES)
At North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, approximately 10% of the College of Engineering’s undergraduate students are minorities (African American, Hispanic, Native American). The College of Engineering (COE), which is 9th largest in the United States, enrolls approximately 145 minority students each year out; approximately 10,000 students are enrolled in the COE. Numerous programs and events are developed and sponsored by Women and Minority Engineering Programs throughout the academic year and summer. Of these, the Summer Transition Program (STP) is one of the largest and longest running.

Among the offerings of STP, a noncredit academic writing workshop is designed to prepare participants for the required First Year Writing course. To this end, students learn to do research using databases, to work on teams, to prepare a formal report with visuals, and to make a collaborative presentation before an audience. While the over-arching assignment was designed to achieve the desired learning outcomes, two additional components were added to the assignment several years ago as a way of not only adding depth to the assignment but also to better prepare students for the workplace and to begin to build a professional network in the process.

Students, who already receive excellent preparation for the technical aspects of their career goals, were asked to learn more about the communication responsibilities that they would assume both as entry-level engineers and as they progressed through their career. Student teams were assigned interviewees, most often STP engineering alumn themselves, to interview about the types and frequency of writing and speaking on the job. They were asked to compare their findings to those of the the Communication in the Workplace Report, which has been prepared by the Professional Writing Program of NC State’s English Department, it has discovered over the course of 25 years of research,that up to 40% of an engineer’s work-week can be dedicated to writing and speaking. It is often essential to career advancement.

During the course of the in-depth virtual or face-to-face interviews, students also learned more about daily routine and projects of engineers in their chosen engineering field, something that they were unlikely to be fully aware of as recent high school graduates. They also often establish a relationship with an alumnus with whom they can identify. A fortunate spin-off of the project is that alumnus of STP often see participating as interviewees, when they were interviewers only a few years before, as an important way of giving back to the program.