EngineerSPEAK guides students to become confident presenters

10/3/2023 Julia Park

Students throughout Grainger Engineering are receiving training in public speaking and oral presentation through a Grainger and Department of Communication collaboration called EngineerSPEAK.

Written by Julia Park

Students in several of Grainger Engineering’s capstone design courses can add public speaking skills to their resumes, thanks to a collaborative program supported by The Grainger College of Engineering and the Department of Communication.

Communication TA conducts workshop with senior design students.
Communication TA and instructor of CMN 101 Monet Tchamdjoci (far right) guides MechSE senior capstone design students during an EngineerSPEAK workshop. Photo by Rachel Berry.

MechSE’s ME 470 curriculum, as well as that of ECE 445, AE 442/443 and BioE 400/435, now includes formal workshops and guest lectures dedicated to training undergraduates in public speaking and oral presentation through the EngineerSPEAK program. Students involved in project-based and project-oriented classes participate in SPEAK (Skills for Presenting Engineering and Applied Knowledge) just before they make their final project presentations. Research groups in the Materials Research Lab, faculty in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and RSOs like Engineering Ambassadors have also taken advantage of the training.

The widely used program began as a grassroots effort between an electrical and computer Engineering teaching assistant and a graduate student in communication to enhance ECE students’ public speaking skills. They brought in experts from the Department of Communication to lead workshops for the ECE 445 capstone course. Former ECE professor Scott Carney recognized the value of the effort and applied for Strategic Instructional Innovations Program (SIIP) funding through Grainger’s Academy for Excellence in Engineering Education (AE3) to develop a low-cost program that could serve the entire college. 

EngineerSPEAK isntructors work with senior capstone design students.
CMN 101 instructors Oxala Da Silva and Adan Mulvaney work with Prof. Blake Johnson's ME 470 students during a public speaking workshop, held in the IDEA Lab in the Grainger Library. 

The SIIP funding has since ended, but the college continues to provide financial support through provision of a 25% TA as well as hourly support of workshop leaders, who are typically graduate students from Communication. EngineerSPEAK is open to support any Grainger instructors who wish to teach and improve their class’s oral presentation skills. The program’s services are customizable and can be changed to fit the skill-level of students or the type of assignments their course requires.

MechSE Teaching Assistant Professor Blake Johnson has utilized the program in ME 470 every semester since the end of the pandemic.

“Students participate in the SPEAK workshops for the opportunity to receive helpful feedback about their presentation slides and delivery, and they do so only under the pressure of their own teammates. I don’t attend the workshops, the ME 470 TA staff does not attend them, and they are not graded,” Johnson said. “Yet most teams choose to participate and they attest to the helpfulness of the Communication graduate students. In recent years, faculty advisers in ME 470 have shared high praise with me about how much our student presentations have improved.” 

Typically, the communication graduate instructors run clinics with the engineering students to review slides from the students’ own presentations, provide critical feedback and iterate. Peer review and group discussions provide an opportunity for students to learn while helping others.

Communication Teaching Assistant Professor Anna Wright is the faculty advisor for the group and also serves as Director of Oral and Written Communication for the department. She recently took over the role from Teaching Associate Professor Grace Giorgio.

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This story was published October 3, 2023.