Engineering Council takes on engineering students’ issues

Article in the Targum:

With the start of a new semester, the Engineering Governing Council is both beginning and continuing initiatives to address various concerns of the engineering student body.

Through the Engineering Affairs Committee, the council is working to expand study abroad opportunities for engineering students, who find it difficult to do so without sacrificing graduating on time, said David Park, council president.

The council originally thought there was a lack of study abroad options for engineers, said William Pan, Engineering Affairs co-chair.

"Turns out it was just a lack of organization and publicity," he said. "So what we're hoping to do is on

[School of] Engineering Open House, which is the same day as Rutgers Day, we're thinking of having a table to display all the different study abroad opportunities for engineers."

But other than raising awareness, the committee is looking to create connections with colleges in English-speaking countries by researching the curriculums of schools like University College of London and the Queensland University in Australia, Pan said.

"The Study Abroad Department has also expressed interest in helping us along with that. They've brought along a few people to talk to us about opportunities," Pan said. "There's this group of South American universities that do this sort of thing."

Research toward the project began at the start of last semester when the council surveyed the level of interest among undergraduate engineers, he said. Almost all students surveyed expressed interest in studying abroad and offered a variety of places they wanted to go.

"I'm really happy this is happening," Pan said. "A couple of the people on my committee have decided to study abroad partly because of this effort."

In addition to opening international opportunities for students, the ad-hoc Research Affairs Committee is in the process of setting up ways for students of different concentrations to work together, Park said.

"The purpose is to give students from a bunch of different engineering backgrounds a project," said Diana Strober, Research Affairs Committee chair. "They have different skills and when you combine these skills you can do a lot more."

There are seven different engineering disciplines, such as environmental, biomedical and electrical, she said. The committee's goal is to fully implement the student interdepartmental project by the end of the semester.

A total of about 30 students, who represent five different engineering concentrations, were interested in taking part of the project, but the committee is now working on engaging professors as well, Strober said.

"We're looking for professors to kind of step up and be mentors for the different projects. That's where we're kind of stuck at right now, just trying to find professors who are generally interested in helping out the students," she said.

After finding mentors, the council will implement a timeline for when the project should be done and will also look into how participants can earn credit or recognition, Strober said. These efforts serve as a testing ground for a potential formal program.

"Interdisciplinary work will become more and more important in the future," she said. "We feel like if we can kind of do this among Rutgers students, they will be prepared in the future, either in graduate school or in the industry."

Engineering students have also expressed communication difficulties and language barriers with their instructors, an issue the council hopes to address through a possible teaching improvement program, Park said.

"A lot of engineering graduate students are foreign students. They become [teaching assistants] and are required to teach for a year," he said. "They're extremely brilliant but English isn't necessarily the strongest skill they have."

Rather than approaching just TAs, Park said the council is looking for a collaborative effort between both graduate and undergraduate students.

"We still have to research if we can implement this because we don't know much about it. We're not 100 percent sure even if the plan is possible," said Marvin Germar, Academic Affairs chair. "I hear there are already a few students who have been trying to do something about it."

Although nothing is set in stone, the committee is considering some involvement with the University's Program in American Language Studies program, which teaches English to non-native speakers for academic, professional, business and social purposes, he said.

Regardless, Germar said this concern is common among the engineering student body and so he wanted to improve the situation.

"Even if it helps slightly I'm sure a lot of people would be happy about it," he said. "The challenge is whether it is feasible or not."

"One thing we value is building new leaders. Any student is welcome to join our standing and ad-hoc committees," Park said.

By Kristine Rosette Enerio
University Editor
Published: Sunday, February 6, 2011
Updated: Monday, February 7, 2011 00:02

Credit for photo: Jeffrey Lazzaro/Senior Staff Photographer