Leadership skills are in ever-growing demand among companies who recruit engineering graduates. This need has been recognized in numerous studies and addressed in engineering accreditation standards. Many universities struggle to find space in a curriculum under constant pressure to cover broadening technical fields. Often these leadership courses are offered as options on top of existing requirements, resulting in students taking additional credits, at significant cost to them.
The Engineering Leadership Development (ELD) Program at Penn State University has offered an 18 credit minor in Engineering Leadership Development for over 20 years, with over 600 graduates. While approximately two times that many students have benefitted by taking courses in engineering leadership during that period, it still represents a fraction of the more than 20,000 who have graduated from the College of Engineering in the same time span. Further, anecdotal evidence has shown that, while many courses provide opportunities for students to work on or lead teams, without guidance on leadership skill development, they often struggle and do not reach their potential as leaders.
To extend the reach of engineering leadership skill development, Penn State’s ELD program has developed a video series to be used in first year seminars to deliver leadership lessons to all freshmen engineering students. These video vignettes are meant to provide some basic leadership insights that students can use in their course work, on teams, in extra-curricular activities, personal interactions and management, and can carry through to their work after graduation. They are based on research into personal and team performance, and build upon the fundamental concepts of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, courage and accepting responsibility in all interpersonal interactions.
The situations and roles were written with the help of and played by students and are intended to be both informative and entertaining. Each video depicts a situation that students are very likely to encounter, and includes a typical response, as well as a more productive approach. At the end of each video, we summarize key points to remember when students encounter similar situations as well as suggested follow-up activities that students could do independently or instructors could incorporate within their classroom instruction.
The videos were piloted for the first time during the Fall 2015 semester with a limited number of users, and brought into wider use in the Spring 2016, both by encouraging wider-spread use within Penn State but also by offering the site to other university engineering leadership. At the end of the spring semester we will seek feedback from instructors as well as students. Students will be asked to provide feedback to assess how effective the videos were at developing an awareness and understanding of effective personal and team performance approaches when faced with situations that provide an opportunity to demonstrate engineering leadership competencies. Results from the feedback will be factored into revisions to the films, and included in a subsequent study.
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