PRISM Magazine On-Line  -  January 2000
Teaching Toolbox
Industrial Role Models

by Phillip Wankat
and Frank Oreovicz

Companies can play a part in educating your students

The primary duty of teaching undergraduate engineers what they need to know to survive in the workplace falls to educators. But we need not go it alone in this task—industry, which has a vested interest in the quality and preparedness of engineering graduates, has a number of important roles to play in ensuring that their future employees are well-educated.

The Trainer

    With practical experience, undergraduates become better students and eventually better engineers— motivated by seeing how theory is applied in practice, experiencing the importance of communication and teamwork, and using the opportunity to develop common sense through hands-on engineering. Industry can help by providing students in co-op and internship positions with real engineering work, and increased expectations and responsibilities as they progress. Above all, industry needs to keep the pipeline open and provide these positions even during periodic economic downturns.

    For their part, engineering departments can help students learn more by requiring them to reflect on those experiences through reports, group meetings, and visits from the department's industrial coordinator. Schools can also extend the length of time spent in these positions so that industry's needs are also satisfied.

The Instructor

    By providing practical experiences, presenting seminars and workshops, and working with student organizations, industry can help engineering programs ensure that all graduates are strong in the critical non-technical areas identified by ABET, including communication, teamwork, leadership, functioning in a diverse world, ethics, knowledge of contemporary issues, and entrepreneurial behavior.

    Job-related industry seminars on topics like resumes, interviewing skills, unusual career opportunities, and appropriate etiquette and dress are always appreciated. Industry can also support student organizations, which provide students with wonderful opportunities to improve their ability in a variety of soft skills. Some companies also bring their in-house leadership training programs onto campus.

The Advisor

    Every engineering department needs industrial input to ensure that the right technical content is included in the curriculum. A visiting industrial committee can bring a practical flavor into technical education. Although engineering education should be much more than a feeder to industry, it is important that our graduates continue to meet industry's needs. Most engineering students, of course, expect a practical education that will lead to a well-paying position.

    Engineers from industry can also bring realism to design courses by providing real problems, presenting guest lectures, working with student groups on a regular basis, hosting plant visits, and judging student designs. To make the involvement worthwhile to students, the company needs to commit to work with the students throughout the term and provide modest financial support. In turn, companies may be pleasantly surprised by the quality of student work and thereby identify potential employees.

The Benefactor

    Industry can, of course, provide monetary support for engineering programs. Although always needed and appreciated, money is most effective when combined with the other roles.

The Employer

    Finally, industry can simply continue to provide engineering graduates with jobs. The availability of well-paying professional positions upon graduation is a major motivator for many engineering students as they struggle with a curriculum that is considerably more difficult than most. The role of employer is perhaps the most important one that industry can take on.


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