Helping Students Engineer Successful Careers

Think of an engineering education, and what kinds of courses come to mind? Probably lots of math, chemistry, physics, and other specialized sciences. At UCLA, expand that list to include courses focusing on ethics, teamwork, and leadership, in which UCLA librarians provide invaluable instruction and in-person assistance.

In the ethics course, entitled Engineering and Society, students examine the impact of technology on society, including potential ethical issues associated with environmental, biological, and legal issues. “The goal,” explained instructor Donald Browne, “is to prepare students for issues they’ll confront in their careers and give them the specialized analytical, research, and writing skills to prepare reports examining complex issues fully.”

Browne works closely with librarians Tony Aponte and Liz Cheney in the Science and Engineering Library to develop workshops in which the students learn how to conduct research in the Library, which resources may be most useful, and how to correctly cite references.

“Students are asked to write papers on issues such as the use of drones in law enforcement or solutions to California’s water crisis,” said Cheney. “For many, this is the first time they’ve done in depth library research, which is essential to describing the technical, social, political, or economic aspects of the issue.

 “We guide them to online interactive video tutorials that provide basic skills,” she continued, “then follow up with in-person instruction in individual classes.”

The process is similar for a course entitled the Art of Engineering Endeavors, but in this case Cheney works with Michael Oppenheim, a librarian in the Eugene and Maxine Rosenfeld Management Library. “The course introduces engineering students to the human dimensions of engineering endeavors,” said Browne.

“Teams collaborate on quarter-long projects such as a proposal for a new invention or a modification of an existing invention, including proof of concept, comparisons to existing technology, financial cost, market research, and other factors,” explained Cheney. Engineering librarians have teamed with management librarians for years on support for this course because of its students’ need for specialized Management Library resources and expertise.

Cheney and Oppenheim tailor their in-class presentations to students’ needs. “The structure of our visits is flexible,” said Cheney. “Depending on the questions students ask, we may demo key resources and search strategies for the whole class.

“We also check in with each team to answer specific questions, like where to find technical or market information on their particular product idea,” Cheney continued. “That can happen in class or during a follow-up consultation with us.”

“Students need to navigate research resources efficiently; write cogent, evidence-based papers; and work well in teams not just in class but also in order to be successful engineers,” Browne concluded. “These skills will stand them in good stead throughout their professional careers and beyond.”