July 22, 2011

In today’s world, digital communication no longer solely applies to graphic artists, videographers and web designers. Rather, students entering the professional world, regardless of the discipline, are required to possess a comprehensive digital communication skill set that includes expertise in visual, spoken, written and technological communication.

“I tell my students that they can have the best ideas in the world, but if they can’t communicate them, they can’t do anything with them,” said Paige Davis, assistant STEP coordinator, Construction Management and Industrial Engineering instructor (CMIE). “The ideas will live in their heads forever.”

Oftentimes, the engineering curriculum naturally complements specific modes of communication, whether specifically technological or visual, but many students need reinforcement for written and spoken communication.

According to Davis, technical communication is easier for her students who are enrolled in her solid modeling class. But presenting impressive graphics isn’t enough.

“Students also have to be able to explain the graphics in a presentation or write a concise paper,” said Davis. “Communication skills are the number one skill set graduates need to have to enter the professional world.”

The LSU College of Engineering (CoE) is steadfast in producing graduates who are equipped to solve society’s challenging problems and improve the quality of life by transforming ideas into reality. The CoE has recognized the changing communication expectations for engineers.

Facilitating Communication

As the first program of its kind in the nation, LSU Communication across the Curriculum (CxC) is a multimodal, multifaceted program that works to improve the writing, speaking, visual and technological communication skills of undergraduates. 

The CoE hosts one of the four CxC studios that offer students a wealth of resources throughout their academic years. Opened in 2005, the Engineering Communication Studio has 17 workstations and houses the Bill and Stephanie Barineau Communication Enrichment Conference Room equipped to support the recording of oral presentations among other things and offers a wide range of audio-visual devices for students to use. 

In the fall 2010 semester, the Engineering Communication Studio had more than 1,000 unique visits. During those visits, students clocked in more than 6,000 hours in the Studio.

Perhaps one of the most impressive resources is the three-dimensional (3-D) printer, which enables students to actualize their designs by creating a functional plastic model directly from design files.

For many mechanical engineering seniors, the pinnacle of their undergraduate curriculum is the Capstone Senior Design project. This year, a group of students designed and built a test section of a wind tunnel in order to measure the effects of temperature and velocity on the tunnel’s turbine blades. Group members utilized the Studio’s 3-D printer to manufacture multiple complex parts for their project. The group hopes its project will lead to better film cooling designs and more efficient, energy-producing gas turbines.

The Studio also houses a large-format printer that students use frequently. Each year, petroleum engineering students design a technical poster that illustrates their project background, technical proposals and results. Studio staff assists students with poster layout and preparing the poster for printing. The Petroleum Engineering Department’s Industry Advisory Group, made up of executives from the oil and gas industry, evaluate the students’ posters. 

Developing Distinguished Communicators

Providing students with access to the Studio is only one way the CoE and CxC develop strong communicators. The LSU Distinguished Communicator program allows students to refine their communication skills throughout their undergraduate coursework. Since the first set of students graduated with this honor in Spring 2007, an impressive 61 engineering students have earned this certification.

Candidates are selected on the basis of completing 12 hours of approved courses, submitting a digital portfolio, participating in experiential learning through activities such as internships or co-ops, demonstrating leadership, and maintaining a GPA of 3.0 in Communication Intensive courses.  

Anna Glynn, a recent biological engineering graduate and native of Mandeville, La., was aware of the certification since her sophomore year. Glynn worked with her mentor, Dorin Boldor, assistant professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, to refine her communication skills. Without having an internship, Glynn knew she could use her distinguished communicator certification to stand out upon graduation.

“Especially as engineering majors, we get the stigma that we’re not good communicators,” said Glynn. “To be able to have this certification when you go into the professional world or grad school sets you apart. Everyone wants to hire a good communicator. To have the program to say that I took steps to improve myself says a lot." 

For her experiential learning requirement, Glynn participated in a service-learning class that worked with children, teachers, administrators and sponsors to design and build a playground for a deserving school. Through this experience, Glynn recognized firsthand the need to understand how to communicate effectively when working with different types of people.

“I’ve already been able to talk about my certification in an interview,” said Glynn. “Being able to use my leadership and communication strengths has been something I’ve been able to use to my advantage.”

E3

Currently, there is a need for engineering graduates to have a better understanding of global cultural diversity and its impact on engineering decisions. As one way of meeting this need, the CoE founded the Encounter Engineering in Europe summer program, commonly referred to as E3. E3 is a 5-week study abroad program specifically tailored for engineering students to study manufacturing and technology in Germany and Austria.

Seven engineering students participated in E3 in 2010, and 13 students traveled to Germany for the 2011 trip. Every part of the trip is intended to require students to improve their communication skills. From daily journal entries, to presentations at Museums, on trains, etc., students must employ the four modes of communication —visual, spoken, written and technological—each step of the way.

When Nicholas Massimini, a 2010 participant, realized a component of the experience was writing, he was hesitant. “I wasn’t confident in my writing, and I didn’t know how many people would be reading it,” said Massimini, senior, industrial engineering. “After a while it definitely got better. I gained more confidence in my writing and realized the blog wasn’t as formal as I thought it had to be.”

Massimini and other E3 participants also had to keep a journal for every day of the trip.

“You had to stay on top of it,” said Massimini about having to write in the journal seven days a week. “I knew this was going to be golden. I knew I’d really appreciate having it.”

This summer, the E3 trip included a pilot English 2000 class. As a first-of-its-kind program, four students participated in distance learning via Moodle, Skype and GoToMeeting. As the students worked on their writing skills with the Alps in the background, David “Boz” Bowles, technical communication instructor, taught the class from the Engineering Communication Studio.

“There are a lot of engineers who don’t like writing,” said Bowles. “They don’t think they’re good at it.”

But Bowles knows that these engineering students are capable. For his Communication-Intensive class, Bowles developed assignments that focused on strengthening students’ written and technological skill sets while increasing their confidence in these areas. Assignments included a cultural analysis, argumentative essay, reflective essay and a class blog. 

To read this year’s E3 blog, click here.

The "LSU Engineer"

Traits specific to LSU Engineers include:

  • Critical and holistic thinking
  • Life-long learners
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Awareness of national and international implications involved in issues such as the environment and sustainability
  • Possesses strong leadership qualities and problem-solving mechanisms

Although technology will continue to evolve, one thing is for sure. Technology has changed the environment and expectations of engineers. LSU CoE students have a continuum of resources to become successful engineering communicators.

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For more information, contact Cassie Arceneaux, College of Engineering, carcen6@lsu.edu or (225) 578-0092.



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