New Program Prepares Engineers to Communicate in the Workplace

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ISyE has long been known for graduating capable engineers. A new project, directed by Judith Shaul Norback, ISyE director of Workplace and Academic Communication, ensures that these graduates also leave with the skills necessary to communicate their engineering prowess to employers and clients. Why are communication skills more important than ever for engineers? First, in today's workplace, engineers increasingly interact with non-engineers such as marketing and call center personnel, their chief technology officers, and chief executive officers. Second, technological communication tools have become central to engineering work. The new tools, which recent graduates often are assumed to know, include various e-mail systems, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project, and Access. Third, practicing engineers are increasingly responsible for their own communication, including technology has not erased or reduced the need for personal communication as had been predicted. If anything, office technology has increased the need for and opportunities for personal communication.

Norback's program, which was first used during spring semester, is not a stand-alone course; it is designed to complement assignments in the senior design class. As students work through their engineering project, they receive input and feedback on oral and graphic presentations as well as written reports. "I interviewed senior executives in the workplace on an empirical basis to learn their criteria for employees," she said. "I also got permission from corporations to use their materials in the class, listing a bogus name."

Because the program integrates into the design course, Norback works closely with the professors who teach the course. Assistant Professor Julie Swann agrees that the students benefit from the added course dimension. "One student said he particularly liked the peer evaluations during class presentations. It helped the students focus and consider more effective communication tools." Swann says. "From the panel of alumni, the students heard about communication as it really is in the workplace, and learned that things like grammar, conciseness, and organization really do matter."

Some examples of techniques shared in the program include: how to make good eye contact; when to use non-technical language; how to assess and respond to evidence of a lack of understanding; avoiding the use of inappropriate gestures; and how to respond to questions and comments.

Initial funding from the program comes from Mel Hall, BIE 1967, and Hayne McCondichie, BIE 1952, MSIE 1953, in addition to contributions from the Georgia Tech Foundation through the College of Engineering. The College is watching ISyE's efforts closely, Norback said, and would like to utilize the program in all the engineering disciplines.

"The students can't get enough," she said. "They want more feedback. They're asking why they didn't get any of this before their senior year." Norback and ISyE hope to expand the program into the junior and sophomore years as soon as resources are available.


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    Barbara Christopher
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    Fletcher Moore
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