(282b) Consistent Professional Skills Development Across Longitudinal Core Courses: Placement Outcomes and Demonstration of ABET Criteria

Authors: 
Blowers, P., The University of Arizona
Sorooshian, A., University of Arizona



Students often assume that a strong GPA is enough for generating good offers when they graduate, but employers also desire well rounded candidates who are more than just a GPA.  The University of Arizona faculty have implemented a series of longitudinal course assignments that instruct students in other skills that aid in landing early internships and in generating awards throughout their time as students.  These assignments are blended with developmental advising across all four, or more, years of student participation in the program.  This work describes those activities, their placement, and the successes that result from them.

 In the sophomore year, students in the Material and Energy Balance series participate in two rounds of resume development skill building exercises.  After an hour long introduction, students turn in one version with their name and another that is anonymous.  In the next class meeting, the anonymous ones are used to ask, “Who?  What?  When?  Where? And Why” questions that elicit higher levels and descriptive bullet points and more well formatted unique resumes.  Students then turn in an improved resumes and receive feedback from the faculty on areas where they can improve the written text, along with developmental advising about elements of their professional development that are missing or are weak.  These areas include the obvious scholarship through GPAs, but also include encouragement for students to engage in leadership, research, and internship opportunities.  This feedback occurs immediately prior to the UA fall career fair.

 In the sophomore year, the lecture period prior to each of the four midterms is used to practice oral interview skills in class.  In each of the four rounds, students are given between 1 and 3 typical resume prompts and then asked to write a detailed verbal answer that is then submitted and evaluated.  In the first round in class, students partner with those near them, generally well-known peers, and then answer the prompts orally and are evaluated by their peer on their ability to sell skills explicitly, be specific, be positive, quantify, make eye contact, and use natural non-verbal communication skills.  In round two, students are paired randomly and answer one prompt they had submitted in written form and one new prompt.  In round three, students are again randomized in pairs and now answer two prompts they have not prepared for in written form, but that get at the underlying skills.  In round four, students are randomized and have to answer typical off-the-wall questions interviews ask and are given the reasoning behind why companies use these and how to handle them.

 In the junior year, students again are required to turn in a resume and it is more critically evaluated.  Again, developmental advising is used to guide students into leveraging their prior experiences into higher levels of engagement, or to get them started if they have not taken initiative yet.  Clear communication describes the typical student trajectory of those who have not begun activities.  Written and verbal oral practice in interviewing questions again takes place in the lecture prior to each midterm so students can continue to assimilate the material on the exam without trying to learn new material at the same time.  The resume development takes place prior to the spring career fair, while the oral interview questions are spaced throughout interview season for summer internships.

In the senior year, students again submit resumes and receive final advice prior to the fall career fair.  In some years, if timing allows, students are randomly picked to verbally answer a new prompt in front of the class and then the class gives constructive criticism and positive feedback.  The randomization is done by drawing cards or rolling dice in the first 3 minutes of class and then the student giving their answer in front of the class.  This activity was anticipated to be a high stress situation, but students have responded very favorably and comment that their real interviews are much less stressful because they were only with one or two interviewers and not 40-60.

 Early placement into NSF REU programs and internships is strong, while graduating senior placement is even stronger.  It is typical that 35% of our graduate go into PhD and MS programs with full funding.  Approximately 10-15% of each class signs full time offers in early October for May start dates.  15-20% of students are still looking for employment opportunities in the last month before graduation, with only a few students not having offers prior to graduation.  Student feedback during senior exit interviews shows the students strongly value the constant and positive support in developing areas that are often neglected in engineering core courses.

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