Students entering four year engineering programs often have core first year courses that cover mostly fundamental mathematics, generic skills and engineering principles. Many students entering second and sometimes even third year of their engineering program are still naïve to the projects, roles and responsibilities of engineers within their discipline. There is often little ‘big picture’ context provided at the start of their engineering program, as to why they need to learn a range of theoretical concepts and generic skills, often leaving them disengaged with their chosen engineering discipline. In some cases, students leave their program due to a lack of motivation stemming from a lost sense of purpose and career conceptualisation. Similarly to the workplace, the most effective people are those that are engaged in what they are doing. Through exposing engineering students to ‘real world’ projects coupled with passionate and successful engineering professionals showcasing such projects, goes a long way to cement student learning engagement and a sense of purpose.
This study sought to ascertain students’ satisfaction with a 2nd year civil engineering course that included a number of embedded case study presentations by experienced engineering professionals serving as guest lecturers. The survey also sought to identify whether students felt they were getting sufficient exposure to authentic professional practice experiences through project-based learning, case studies, guest lecturers, site visits, etc. in the early part of their engineering program. The primary goal of the study was to identify the extent of deficiency in exposure to professional practice in the early years of the engineering program and the resulting diminished benefits that such exposure could have derived in terms of learning engagement, discipline contextualisation and career purpose.
Data for this study was collected through a questionnaire survey of 83 second year undergraduate students completing the ‘Construction Engineering’ course in the Bachelor of Civil Engineering Program offered by Griffith University. The questionnaire was comprised of three main sections: Part A collected basic demographic information; Part B was designed to elicit the undergraduate engineering students’ perceptions on the extent to which the case studies presented by the guest lecturers helped to improve their learning and engagement with the course and degree program; Part C requested students to provide their opinion on the extent of professional practice exposure in the early years of their program (i.e. year 1 and 2). Descriptive statistics and paired sample t-test statistical techniques were applied to achieve project aims.
The findings are consistent with anecdotal evidence that engineering students felt that early exposure to engineering practice assisted them to contextualise and engage with their engineering discipline better. Further, the results confirmed that there is room for improving the current level of professional practice exposure in the early years of the civil engineering degree program.
Industry exposure through guest lectures, site visits and current case studies needs to be intertwined into modern engineering programs to improve student engagement, purpose and retention.
Professional practice; guest lecturers; graduate attributes; student engagement; graduate readiness.