I got a call last week from the electrical engineering department on campus asking if I would teach a class this semester. The class has the potential to be one of the most important classes that they will encounter in school.
No, it’s not circuits 1. It’s University Studies.
You see, our university requires every freshman to take a class to orient them to living life at a university. My sister went back to school when I started my master’s degree, and she complained to me over and over about how irrelevant the class is. There was a section on, for instance, talking to your roommate about making living arrangements. At this point, she’d moved out of my parents’ house and been living with someone for 12 years!
The custom in electrical engineering has been to try to use this class for something better: what specifically do you need to succeed in electrical engineering? What that something is has been rather vague, however, so I’ve been granted a lot of latitude in what I teach.
Perfect! I’m going to teach a bunch of things I wish I’d known when I started school. For instance – I didn’t know there was more than one way to take notes, I didn’t know how to study for a problem-based exam (versus those in humanities-type classes, which often involve a lot of memorization), I was on my own for setting up a course schedule (my advisor wasn’t very helpful), I had no idea how to give a technical presentation, etc. A few years ago, I discovered that most of my circuits 1 students had no idea how to write a proper lab report! That one is definitely going on the list.
In other words, I’m going to cover a lot of ‘soft skills’ that should be relevant in an engineering education. Some of these skills are also quite pertinent in a job. I know that learning to live with a roommate can be difficult, but you can always change roommates, if necessary. Learning how to communicate well in a job as well as how to get through school is, in my opinion, a bit higher priority.
If you were teaching a class like this, what knowledge and skills do you think are imperative for a beginning engineering student? While I’ve got a pretty good outline, I’m always on the lookout for ideas from people whose experience and perspective differs quite a bit from mine.