learning communities, professional skills, project management, graduate education
Background. It is well recognized that current graduate education is too narrowly focused on thesis research. Graduate students have a strong desire to gain skills for their future career success beyond thesis research. This obvious gap in professional skill training in current graduate study also leads to the common student perception that professional skills beyond academic knowledge should only be gained after completion of thesis research.
Purpose. A new program is being developed to rigorously integrate professional skills training with thesis research. The approach is to establish learning communities of Graduates for Advancing Professional Skills (GAPS) to incorporate project management skill training from industry into academic research. The GAPS program seeks to address two fundamental education research questions: How can project management skill training be integrated with thesis research in graduate education? What is the role/value of learning communities in enhancing the training and retention of professional skills and the effectiveness of thesis research? Our proposed solution is that graduate student learning communities engaging in a blended online and classroom approach will promote learning of professional skills such as project and time management in thesis research activities. The purpose of this session is to establish the connection between project management and thesis research, and demonstrate the beginning progress of the GAPS program towards. Methodology/approach. The following progress is being made to establish GAPS learning communities through which to teach and practice professional skills. A website has been developed to introduce the program, recruit participants, provide information on the online modules, and survey results of participants’ current levels of knowledge and skills related to project management. A new course, “Introduction of Project Management for Thesis Research”, has been added to the course catalog and open to enrollment for students from different majors. In addition, learning modules including project charter, scheduling, communication, teamwork, critical path method, and lean concept are developed. Case studies and examples have been developed to help students learn how to utilize project management skills in their thesis research.
Conclusions. The concept of integrating professional skills training with thesis research through learning communities has been demonstrated. There are multiple advantages of this approach, including efficient utilization of the current resources, and faculty buy-in. Preliminary data from the first cohort are being collected and analyzed to identify students’ needs, benefits of the program, and areas of improvement for future cohort iterations.
Implications. The GAPS program will improve professional skill training for graduate students through communities of practice. This new learning model has the potential to fundamentally change the culture of graduate education. We believe the method demonstrated here can be broadly applied to different engineering majors, and even broadly to all thesis research.
South Dakota State University
© American Society for Engineering Education, 2020. Posted with permission.
Jiang, Shan; Gansemer-Topf, Ann M.; Reuel, Nigel Forest; Okudan-Kremer, Gul E.; Li, Qing; and Mort, Rebecca, "A Community of Practice Approach to Integrating Professional Skills Training with Graduate Thesis Research" (2020). ASEE North Midwest Section Annual Conference 2020 Publications. 16.