Alumni Engagement and the Engineering Communications Program
CoE Alumni Participate in Professional Discussions About Engineering Communication
Engineering students can learn by reading books, but they can also find out how to apply what they’ve learned by talking to practicing engineers and alumni. The Engineering Communications Program strives to create real projects with local clients or campus partnerships.
When Allison Hutchison, PhD joined ECP as a senior lecturer in the fall of 2019, she knew this firsthand from a project involving undergrads and alumni from materials science and engineering at Virginia Tech. She decided to launch a similar project here in the College of Engineering by calling upon alumni to participate in informational interviews with students in ECP’s two core courses, 3350 and 3500.
Alumni answered the call without hesitation—around 60 volunteered in Hutchison’s first semester, enough for every student to have a personal conversation with an alum. Students selected alum whose undergraduate majors or professional careers matched their interests. After interviewing the alum, students gave presentations and wrote reports focusing on what they learned about communication and collaboration.
Alumni and Students Benefit from Communicative Interaction
Both students and alumni responded with positive feedback. Craig Ewing, ORIE ’71, MBA ’72, reported that he and other members of the Cornell Engineering Alumni Association (CEAA) shared “positive interview experiences” at a board meeting, offering to engage alumni in the project going forward. Likewise, students wrote in their reports a multitude of positive experiences.
“After talking to Ellen [Patridge], I realized how easy it is for engineers to get caught up in their own technical world, whether it be trying to debug a software program or solve a complicated heuristic. Yet even something as simple as talking through a problem with another person can open up so many doors, and ultimately create a much more collaborative and efficient work environment.
“Based on my interview with Randy [Randolph Scott Little], it is clear that the importance of communication has increased significantly in the last couple decades. [...] Many of the communication and collaboration methods Randy mentioned during our interview aligned with the content presented during the lecture. I hope to be able to apply both of what I learned from Randy as well as lecture in my future.”
~Jaye Ren, student
Expanding and Evolving the Communication Project
The following semester, fellow ECP senior lecturer, Traci Nathans-Kelly, PhD joined the alumni interview project. Students in both sections of ENGRC 3500: Engineering Communications interviewed alumni during the first part of what became a monumental semester for the entire college community. In fact, students in Hutchison’s section gave poster presentations on Friday, March 13, just hours before the COVID-19 shutdown was announced. Kyle Karnes, ORIE ’91, even attended the presentations in person that day. Below is one example of a poster designed by Arzu Mammadova and Ishaan Thakur, who interviewed Kim Emerson and Sharon Bader, also members of CEAA.
Communication Project Begets New Alum’s Participation
Still growing and evolving, the interview project boasts multiple alumni who enthusiastically come back year after year, lending their expertise to students. The project has also come full circle with its first ENGRC 3500 graduate, Leeds Rising, ORIE and CS, ’20, participating as an alumni interviewee. To date, well over 150 students have conducted more than 100 interviews, creating relationships with alumni and investigating for themselves why communication and collaboration skills are so integral to engineering work and those with engineering degrees.
Alumni Feedback Sparks Improvements to Students’ Websites
Facilitating Authentic Communication Practices
Because CoE alumni engage in authentic communication in their workplaces—communication that “gets things done” (cf. Caroline Tagg)—they develop valuable connections with our students by sharing their stories and practices.
ECP extends our warmest and most sincere thanks to the following alumni for volunteering and contributing their expertise to this project: