Tips to Help Students Excel in a Number of Engineering Specializations

Tips to Help Engineering Students

Engineering is notoriously difficult. As an educator, your goal is to ensure that your students thrive, not by making the program easier, but by ensuring they have access to the resources they need to find success.

It’s a difficult balance. There are good reasons why engineering remains one of the most competitive majors in existence. In this article, we provide suggestions that may help your engineering students thrive regardless of their specialization.

Foster Student-Teacher Relationships

Engineering is a very difficult major. In fact, some studies have shown that college engineering programs have a dropout rate of almost 50%, and that number can go even higher depending on the school.

Students do better when they feel comfortable bouncing questions off their teacher. The university system is designed to foster interactions of this kind— most college professors are contractually required to keep office hours where students can come in and ask questions.

However, most students will never take advantage of these hours, either out of a sense of freshmen timidity, or because they didn’t know about them in the first place. It is important for engineering educators to encourage questions and continued learning even outside of classroom hours.

Not only will this help to clarify concepts for the students but it will also build long-term connections that can help them thrive as they continue with the program.

Some professors make their office hours more accessible by hosting them in fun locations, like a bookstore or coffee shop.

Encourage Study Groups

Almost seventy percent of students from all disciplines report doing better with study groups than they do individually. There are multiple reasons why this might be the case.

  • Accountability: Study groups force students to prioritize studying in their schedule. When they commit to being in the group they are then forced to actively opt out if there is a change in their plans. That element of social accountability will ensure that most people show up, even when they might not want to.
  • A diversity of perspectives: Studying something that you don’t understand is difficult. When students get together, they ensure access to a diverse range of perspectives. Even if one person doesn’t understand the concept, chances are there will be someone else around who does.
  • A distraction-free environment: Study groups take students out of their dorm rooms and into an environment that is free of distraction. Once they arrive at their study session there is nothing for them to do but hit the books, thus increasing their chances of being productive.

While educators cannot mandate study groups they can help to organize and support them. During particularly difficult modules, suggest organizing study groups and emphasize the benefits.

Record Lectures

While most educational disciplines have some degree of scaffolding this is particularly true of engineering. Concepts build off of one another in a continuous flow so that if a student struggles to master their understanding of one thing, it might come back to haunt them a few semesters later when they are tasked with learning something else.

Having access to what they have learned in the past can be very beneficial. Educators, particularly of freshmen should encourage students to take excellent notes and to save them for the duration of their education.

However, if you want to be very generous, you may also consider recording and uploading your lectures. With the proliferation of online learning, this has become an increasingly common practice. Modern technology makes it easy to do and the benefits for your students can be quite substantial.

Emphasize Communication as a Skill

The technical aspects of engineering are so prominent that it can be easy to forget the softer aspects of the profession that also play a significant role in professional outcomes. Engineers need to be able to communicate their thoughts effectively to both ensure productivity and avoid costly mistakes.

Unfortunately, communication is a soft skill that does not necessarily come naturally to someone just because they are good at engineering.

To effectively communicate as an engineer, one must be able to:

  • Write effective, clear messages: Written communication effectiveness is a skill that many people struggle with. Engineers need to understand how to sell their ideas concisely, and in a way that can be understood clearly by someone who doesn’t share their educational background.
  • Speak confidently about their thoughts: Confidence is as much a part of communication as anything else. When people come across as uncomfortable or uncertain in a social interaction it detracts from the credibility of their idea.
  • Listen: The b-side of communication is being able to listen actively to what other people have to say. While this may sound simple, it is a foundational skill that many people lack.

While it is hard to teach communication as a skill, educators can still emphasize it by designing projects that require collaboration. Group projects, though not always popular, can replicate professional conditions that engineers will experience in the workplace.

You can also help students develop their communication skills through writing projects or class presentations.

Remember Who Your Students Are

They are kids. You can’t treat them like that— not exactly— but you can’t assume that they have an adult understanding of the world either. The classic university mindset has emphasized a “survival of the fitness” motif. It’s a much more challenging educational experience than high school. Students adapt or fall away.

Some college educators may even see it as their responsibility to weed out students who are ill-adapted for the profession that they are considering. There might even be a degree of truth to that. However, it’s also true that this mindset doesn’t necessarily create an equitable learning environment.

You don’t know where everyone in your classroom is coming from. Helping students ease into engineering with simple(ish) accommodations like those described above can have a transformative impact on their educational experience.

It’s not about softening the program. Engineering is hard. Encouraging study groups or office hours meetings won’t change that. However, by being approachable and helpful, you can help bridge the gap between high school and university life that catches so many students off guard.