Challenges to Developing Professional Skills in Undergraduate Chemical Engineers at a Minority Serving University




Alexander, Matthew

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American Society for Engineering Education


Undergraduate engineering students at a minority serving institution present unique challenges for professional skill development. Students in the Chemical Process Design II and III course sequence in chemical engineering at Texas A&M University-Kingsville are introduced repeatedly to the importance of communication skills, and the topics of professional engineering licensure and life-long learning. A fraction of these students have English as their second language, and development of oral and written communication skills to the level of fluency expected of engineers in the United States is challenging. The students are tested in their oral communication skills through delivery of six group-format project presentations in the two course sequence. The course sequence also requires significant written communication exercises, particularly in the second course which is a writing intensive course. The overall performance of those students with English as a second language is reasonably strong once the instructor’s grading expectations are realized and the students avail themselves of outside assistance, such as provided by the University Writing Center. The undergraduate student’s development of a sense of the importance of life-long learning is also challenging for the instructor to instill. An open-ended technical problem requiring solution as part of a senior design project is an opportunity for the instructor to use coaching methods to guide students to their own independent solution, thus reinforcing self-learning outside of the instructor-led paradigm. Instilling an interest for professional registration is also difficult to accomplish, in particular because the fraction of chemical engineers that become registered in their career is far less than in other engineering disciplines such as civil engineering. The approaches used to accomplish instruction of these important professional skills at a minority-serving institution are presented.


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Alexander, M. (2019, April), Challenges to Developing Professional Skills in Undergraduate Chemical Engineers at a Minority Serving University Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Gulf-Southwest Section Annual Meeting, AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, Austin, TX 78705.