Volume 97, Issue 2
Thursday, May 29, 2003

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Engineers need to write well

"We English good," students say

By Paolo Zinatelli
Gazette Staff

Maybe the stereotype of the engineering student who can't put a sentence together is not as true as once thought.

Over the last decade or more, university engineering programs have been making the move to include more writing and communication courses to better help their students.

According to Jan Shepherd McKee, course co-ordinator for technical communications in the faculty of engineering, Western has been doing this for at least the last 15 years.

"We have a communications unit for our students," she said, adding this September there will be a new design of the undergraduate curriculum to expand this initiative.

She explained that while they do listen to the demands made by industry, the faculty also follows the guidelines laid out by the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers.

"There are a minimum number of studies in the social science and humanities [that are required]," explained Marie Carter, director of professional and international affairs at CCPE. Language courses may be included in this, she added.

"We're having more and more programs offer writing and communication skills," Carter said, adding these skills are often embedded within other courses.

The technical courses are very difficult and time consuming, she said. As a result, some students may see the "soft skill" courses as less demanding, Carter stated.

Chris Loader, a fourth-year engineering student at Western, agreed. In general, he said, engineering students tend to brush off these courses when compared to their technical courses.

The need for better communication skills among engineering students and graduates has mainly been a response to the demands made from industry, Carter said.

Industry claims have been made that while engineering students are graduating with strong technical skills, there is a weakness in their communication and management skills, she explained. As a result, universities have started including an emphasis on communication skills, Carter added.

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2002 THE GAZETTE