To be competitive in today’s economy, engineers need to have strong technical communications skills. However, many colleges are struggling to provide this extra training.
At the University of New Haven, a $185,500, three-year grant from the Davis Educational Foundation in Maine will fund a new program to provide students with strong technical communication skills. The grant will allow the university to establish a PITCH (Project to Integrate Technical Communication Habits) program that will begin this fall and follow students through all four years of college.
“The goal of this program is to emphasize professional communication skills across engineering disciplines,” said Ronald Harichandran, dean of the Tagliatela College of Engineering at UNH. “Employers want engineering graduates to display the ability to clearly communicate; good communications skills will give our graduates an advantage in the marketplace.”
Harichandran says the program must train student engineers about when to communicate as well as how. “Good written, oral and visual communication skills are essential attributes for today’s engineering graduates.”
Harichandran, who in collaboration with David Adams, a consultant, set up a similar program at Michigan State University before joining UNH in August 2011, said the communications skills training will be woven into regular engineering courses rather than being taught in separate courses.
To help faculty incorporate teaching these skills into their classes, Adams trained UNH’s engineering professors at an intensive three-day workshop this summer. Starting this fall, students will be learning the new skills in both core and advanced classes. Each student will have to add evidence of achievement in communications to his or her four-year portfolio. A random sample of those portfolios will be reviewed before graduation to ensure that the skills were actually learned, Harichandran said.
This summer, alumni, faculty and employers who often hire UNH alumni were surveyed to determine which technical communication attributes, products and professional behaviors are essential. The data will be used to determine exactly what students must accomplish in their first two years, when they are taking core engineering courses, and during the remaining two years, when they are specializing in a particular engineering discipline.
“When employers are surveyed about what are the most important attributes that they desire in engineering graduates, we see the same response over and over — the ability to communicate,” said Harichandran. “In addition to solid technical skills, engineers must have the ability to communicate technical content to clients, peers and the public, and they need to be able to do this in writing, verbally and using visuals.”
At the end of the three-year Davis Foundation grant, Harichandran said the program will have gone through multiple phases of assessment and improvement, and will be self-sustaining.
The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation, established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis's retirement as chairman of Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc.
The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. UNH enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.