Learning to be leaders

Posted on 20. Apr, 2012 by in Academic Departments, Beyond Boundaries, Issues, Magazine, Students

Chris Carlson-Dakes

Chris Carlson-Dakes, one instructor for the core competencies in engineering leadership course.

As professionals whose work often involves making changes to highly technical systems, engineers need to be able to work harmoniously in teams with other engineers—and with non-engineers—if they are to solve problems and persuade others to implement solutions.

But there’s a disconnect between today’s engineering curriculum and the leadership and teamwork skills companies are looking for in new hires, says Chris Carlson-Dakes, an industrial and mechanical engineer with eight years of experience consulting for industry. “The problems engineers work on are so complex that no single person can solve them,” he says. “Students get so much technical course material in other classes that very rarely do they get the holistic, human side of the discipline of engineering.”

That’s why College of Engineering students can start learning those skills as freshmen through the course, Core Competencies in Engineering Leadership (InterEGR 103), which debuted in fall 2011.

Students in the course learn different measurements of their personalities and how to identify ways they can work more effectively with others. They learn how other people perceive them as they work in groups. They also learn about the leadership and professional-growth opportunities on campus and get an early start on attending career fairs.

Isabella Stewart, who took the course in the fall 2011 semester, says she has always been shy, but the class focus on career resources made it clear that she will need to be proactive in building herself as a professional. “The class opened me up to the fact that you have to go out there and make things happen,” she says. “Being shy and standing on the sidelines is not going to work out.”

While students in the course learn about several leadership models, they spend the bulk of their time focusing on the social change model, which emphasizes citizenship and stewardship. Carlson-Dakes, one of the course instructors, says the social change model can bridge the gap between the highly technical nature of engineering as a discipline, and the increasing focus on projects that address social and environmental responsibility. His students engage in a service project on their own as the culmination of their learning.

He says it’s important for students to finish the course knowing that everyone has the potential to be a leader, regardless of their personality. “To me, leadership is having a vision and a commitment to something, and being able to articulate it in a way that compels others to get involved and committed without feeling like they’re being coerced,” he says. “You can be a very quiet, passive, informal leader or you can be a very loud, outspoken, visionary, charismatic leader. Both are very effective.”Bucky Badger head

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