When Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi really listened to employers, it discovered a painful truth: While its mechanical engineering students had the technical skills needed to get hired, they lacked the communication skills to work successfully with non-engineer colleagues. They could get a first job, yet were challenged in being retained. Even those who were retained found it difficult to advance in their careers.

So the university took action, sending its mechanical engineering students to theater classes, communication workshops, workplace fieldtrips, and business etiquette dinners. Students were provided additional guidance in developing skills on communicating complex scientific or technical topics to lay audiences, they learned business etiquette in making eye contact, shaking hands and also practiced which fork to pick up first at a business dinner, which water glass was theirs and what do if their dining companion commandeered their bread plate. More importantly, they learned how to connect with non-technical types and how to talk about their work so everyone could understand.

The new approach, funded through a three-year $325,000 MSI Measuring College Value Grant from Strada Education Network, now includes:

  • A newly designed communication course beginning in the freshman year;
  • Direct engagement with successful engineering professionals and alumni;
  • Field trips and plant tours to gain a more realistic view of day-to-day interactions on the job;
  • Internships with potential employers; and
  • Resume development, mock interviews, and networking opportunities to showcase both technical and professional skills such as communication, teamwork, and creative problem-solving.

The end goal is to ensure that mechanical engineers graduating from the university can get their first jobs faster, gain positive employer reviews and advance in their careers, improving their own wellbeing and the return on their education investments.

“With the Strada grant, we’ve been able to send students out into the workforce who better understand what is expected of them to be successful in their careers. They see that engineers have to be able to communicate with everyone from the immediate supervisor to customers,” said Catherine “Katie” Cole, research associate for the Office of the President & Academic Affairs at TAMU-CC. “They also witness how the ‘professional skills’ they’ve learned in the classroom are important to their future careers.”

Learn more about how Strada is working with Minority Serving Institutions to help students achieve long-term success in rewarding careers.