many engineering professors believe that all real learning takes place
in the classroom, students and educational researchers know that a lot
of it takes place outside of class. Student organizations, such as clubs,
student chapters of professional societies, fraternities, sororities,
intramural sportsplus work opportunities such as co-operative
education and internships that are integrated into the curriculumare
all great venues for learning time management, interpersonal, and leadership
challenge for educators is not just to get students to participate in
outside activities. For real learning to take place, students have to
do more than just attend meetings or compete on teams. These activities
only have an effect if students are involved. (Of course, involvement
is necessary for class activities also.) You might encourage students
to join and become involved in at least one extracurricular activity,
especially as a committee chair or officer of the organization.
learn skills from what they do. To learn to be a team player, for example,
one needs to participate on teams. To become a leader, one needs opportunities
to be a leader. Intramural sports and student organizations provide
these opportunities. Projects such as visiting nursing homes, teaching
swimming to the disabled, or cleaning up a park as an organization-sponsored
activity are excellent leadership training since students have to plan
and implement the activity. Service organizations are especially effective
since they usually have a number of projects that require someone to
take charge. Members of fraternities and sororities who become officers
in their organization are getting a crash course in leadership.
taking a leadership role in a student organization may well be the deciding
factor in landing a good job. Companies look for these activities on
résumés, and it gives them another reason to hire the
individual. If it's necessary for students to work to pay for their
education, encourage them to make the extra effort to be promoted to
a supervisory position. Being a crew chief at a fast-food restaurant
will have much more impact on a résumé than flipping hamburgers.
benefit of outside activities is that they help keep engineering students
in the program. Students who connect with other students and the university
are less likely to drop out. Obviously, joining student organizations
and living in a residence hall are excellent ways to increase social
interactionsparticularly critical for first-year students since
they are most at risk.
interaction with faculty is another way to improve student retention.
Informal contacts with professors outside of class have the most impact.
Students can develop both professionally and personally by knowing a
few professors well. It is particularly important later on when students
need letters of recommendation for graduate school or a job.
provide that connection by serving as a faculty sponsor or adviser of
a student organization, residence hall, fraternity, or sorority. Although
somewhat time-consuming, it can be very rewarding. Faculty advisers
can greatly increase the learning that occurs in student organizations.
For example, informally debriefing committee chairs over a cup of coffee
encourages them to reflect on what worked, what didn't work, and why.
This kind of insight can transform a student activity into a learning
experience in practical aspects of leadership and project management.
way to involve students are group projects with rotating leadership.
The projects should entail a team effort and require the leader to plan,
delegate, motivate, and integrate. Be sure to incorporate reflection
so that students can learn about leadership skills in addition to technical
opportunities for students to practice interpersonal skills, leadership,
and teamwork in class are necessarily limited, involvement in student
organizations can provide the needed practice. Playing on the soccer
team or planning a frat party may seem like fun and games, but it can
be much more.
Phillip Wankat is head of interdisciplinary engineering and the Clifton
L. Lovell Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue
Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist at Purdue's
chemical engineering school.
They can be reached at email@example.com.