National Academies Press: OpenBook

Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education (2012)

Chapter: Northwestern University

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Suggested Citation:"Northwestern University." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.

McCormick Office of Career Development

Lead Institution: Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Collaborating Institutions: Industry, non-profits, government

Category: Co-Op

Date Implemented: 1940




Program Description: The Office of Career Development is a radical expansion of what was once a renowned co-op program and now serves nearly all engineering undergraduates and graduate students at Northwestern. Its overarching objective is to enable students to set themselves on a path to a professional pursuit of their own making. The McCormick Career Development programs provide opportunities for students to have industry experience (co-op or internships), service learning projects, or employment in research laboratories. These opportunities are built upon the Engineering First® curriculum, including the course sequences, Engineering Analysis and Engineering Design and Communications. Students leverage these team project experiences into real-world positions in industry, government and the non-profit sectors. McCormick students are offered the Introduction to Career Development course (CRDV 301), in their first or second year. The course is taught by adjunct faculty who are working professionals in engineering organizations and the topics addressed in this course equip our students with the tools necessary to acquire their first position as an intern or in co-op and to manage a lifelong career in the professions. Finally, potential employers coming to campus for narrowly defined hiring searches may become partners with this office and may offer placement opportunities to prepared students. External partners aim to provide a high-quality, meaningful and challenging work experience for our students, and to provide timely feedback on performance in each of the ABET criteria for the assessment of student learning outcomes. Undergraduate and graduate students in all academic departments and all major programs of study participate in this office’s programs. Faculty provide academic advising that dovetails with the career advising offered by McCormick Office of Career Development.

Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: It was predicted that we would expand many programmatic elements and thereby be serving 30% participation in career development programs. The student response was nearly double what we expected, at 55% of undergraduates in an internship, co-op or service-learning arrangement, or paid position in a research lab. The first increase that we experienced was in the enrollments for CRDV 301, which was initiated as a beta test version in the fall quarter of 2007. One section was offered and 15 students enrolled. By the end of the spring quarter of 2008, an additional 85 students had completed the course. Beginning in the fall of 2008, CRDV 301 was established as a prerequisite for students entering the Co-op Program or the Engineering Internship Program and enrollments have averaged 268 students per year since the fall of 2009. The second major development was to add the opportunity for students to work as research assistants in university or government labs, applying the same “work-integrated learning” principles that are present in the co-op and internship experiences. At the same time, in fall 2009, we added a program called Engineering Projects in Service Learning for students whose work would be as volunteers in the non-profit sector, again applying the same principles as the co-op and internship programs. We now serve over 800 undergraduates in the combined programs of co-op, internships, service learning, and research experience. With approximately 1500 students in the baccalaureate engineering programs, 53% of these students are now engaged in the process of gaining experience through career development. Although none of these programs are required of students at McCormick, it is clearly becoming a choice that many students make because they see the value of integrating theoretical and practical knowledge to become whole-brain engineers. As of spring quarter, 2012, engineering students at Northwestern University also have the opportunity to earn co-op or internship recognition through a combination of part-time work and part-time classes. Graduate students have the same opportunities.

Assessment Information: All student work is subject to a comprehensive, and penetrating, evaluation process, using input from both the student and their supervisor in industry, labs, or non-governmental organizations. This assessment directly measures student learning outcomes in the competencies that are required for ABET accreditation. These evaluations are discussed first with the student’s career advisor and then with the academic advisor. Finally, aggregated data are sent to each department for all of the majors offered by that department for purposes of curriculum review. The McCormick School applies performance metrics that must be met, and the University continuously operates its Program Reviews process. Student learning outcomes are assessed at the end of each work term by the student’s workplace supervisor; simultaneously the students evaluate the quality of their experiences at the end of each work term. Students participate in quarterly check-in meetings with their career advisors after each work term, an exit interview at the end of their graduation year, and a survey evaluating the programs and services of McCormick at graduation time.

Funding/Sustainability: Current operating budget (non-personnel) is approximately $50,000 per year. The funding sources include $34,000 institutional funds and $16,000 revenue from a career fair. McCormick Office of Career Development receives a full commitment of support from the Dean of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science because of its long history of providing students with opportunities to begin their careers while pursuing their degrees, thereby integrating real-world practice with class-based theory.

Suggested Citation:"Northwestern University." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.
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The aim of this report is to encourage enhanced richness and relevance of the undergraduate engineering education experience, and thus produce better-prepared and more globally competitive graduates, by providing practical guidance for incorporating real world experience in US engineering programs. The report, a collaborative effort of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), builds on two NAE reports on The Engineer of 2020 that cited the importance of grounding engineering education in real world experience. This project also aligns with other NAE efforts in engineering education, such as the Grand Challenges of Engineering, Changing the Conversation, and Frontiers of Engineering Education.

This publication presents 29 programs that have successfully infused real world experiences into engineering or engineering technology undergraduate education. The Real World Engineering Education committee acknowledges the vision of AMD in supporting this project, which provides useful exemplars for institutions of higher education who seek model programs for infusing real world experiences in their programs. The NAE selection committee was impressed by the number of institutions committed to grounding their programs in real world experience and by the quality, creativity, and diversity of approaches reflected in the submissions. A call for nominations sent to engineering and engineering technology deans, chairs, and faculty yielded 95 high-quality submissions. Two conditions were required of the nominations: (1) an accredited 4-year undergraduate engineering or engineering technology program was the lead institutions, and (2) the nominated program started operation no later than the fall 2010 semester. Within these broad parameters, nominations ranged from those based on innovations within a single course to enhancements across an entire curriculum or institution.

Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education is intended to provide sufficient information to enable engineering and engineering technology faculty and administrators to assess and adapt effective, innovative models of programs to their own institution's objectives. Recognizing that change is rarely trivial, the project included a brief survey of selected engineering deans concern in the adoption of such programs.

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