A Systematic, International Review of Communication Instruction in Undergraduate Engineering Curricula

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Communication is vital in the lives of engineers, and it can no longer be cast aside as a soft skill. However, given the escalating demands for work-ready engineering undergraduates along with the heavy research workload of engineering faculty, adding direct and recurring communications instruction to the engineering curriculum represents a significant challenge. 

In response to this challenge, more schools and colleges of engineering are attempting to integrate communication instruction into and across their existing engineering curriculum by generating partnerships between engineering and communication faculty. These partnerships facilitate students learning communication while reducing the workload of engineering faculty. The Engineering Communications Program (ECP) located in the College of Engineering at Cornell University has a long and successful history of implementing teaching partnerships.

However, there is currently little research into the different ways that schools and colleges of engineering are teaching communication to their undergraduate students or facilitating the development of those communication skills necessary for success in the academy and in professional practice. Given that both national and international engineering education accreditation bodies prominently mention the importance of communication as a critical competency, this lack of research represents a serious problem.

To address this, during the summer of 2021, we will conduct an international survey of first-tier and second-tier schools and colleges of engineering. That survey will answer three questions:

  1. Is engineering communication instruction a formal component of the undergraduate engineering curriculum? 
  2. If so, how is that communication instruction integrated into the curriculum? and 
  3. Has there been any attempt to assess the efficacy of that instruction, and if so, how was that assessment done?

During the summer of 2022, we would likely visit selected sites and work with faculty to develop a range of models for integrating engineering communication into curricula. Currently, we plan on conducting this survey at engineering colleges across the country as well as prominent engineering universities in India, China, Australia, and Canada.

Ideally, this will involve engaging in discussions with faculty from multiple disciplines and many countries. Since engineering communication is interdisciplinary, it will be interesting to see the qualitative research that will come from observing curricula internationally. Ultimately, I am excited to delve deeper into a relatively new field and interact with engineering communities around the globe. I truly enjoy initiatives that will benefit my understanding as well the understanding of the people around me, and I believe this research will do exactly that.

At my previous job in a start-up, I was the only engineer on the team, and I had to communicate with a team of business majors. This meant breaking down technical projects for non-engineers and presenting new technical initiatives to the executive board. Having experienced the importance of communication in a professional environment, I found myself thinking about how fortunate I was to be at an engineering university where I had access to resources to better my communication skills. I could take countless courses, participate in experiential learning, and so much more, but as I dug deeper into the subject, I realized how rare Cornell was in its offerings of Engineering Communication.

The idea that there are thousands of other students who do not have access to the same resources motivated me to pursue this project. The impact of science communication on the scientific community was profound, and I believe this research could be the beginning of a similar effect. It is important to me that my work benefits my surroundings, and I strongly believe this project will have a positive impact.

First, there is the positive impact on me -- I will be able to expand my horizons in a way that would not be possible outside of this program by interacting with communities worldwide and performing research in a field I am passionate about. Secondly, there is the positive impact of sharing this experience with others, through presentations, publications, and workshops with other scholars. I strongly believe there is no point in making strides if you are unable to communicate it with the people around you. Finally, there is the positive impact this research could have on engineering universities internationally by making available models for integrating engineering communication into engineering curricula and thus improving educational outcomes for students everywhere.

I love engineering because of the constant growth -- there is always room for learning more. Doing research in a growing field has the potential for creating a foundation for continuous knowledge-building. I am excited about performing research, knowing even small discoveries could benefit universities around the world.

Neha Malepati

Student, Cornell University


Go to the profile of Inkindi Mutoni Sabine
25 days ago

Hi Neha! Your research project is very interesting. I am studying Engineering but then getting to read this, I looked back and realized that engineering communication is something that wasn't given value it should be given and I believe that we need those communication skills in our undergraduate studies and professionally as well. Good luck in your research and can't wait to hear from you on your findings here on the network!!