By: Shirene Singh
Our experiences outside the classroom can be just as vital as the professors’ lectures inside. A number of cardinal life lessons and soft skills cannot be easily “taught” but are instead instilled through experiences. Participating in the Emerging Leaders in Engineering (ELE) program is one way for students at UW-Madison to develop these leadership skills through structured experiences.
ELE is a new cohort program facilitated by the College of Engineering that promotes a climate of student involvement through professional development opportunities, personal exploration, and civic engagement. By completing this program, students would gain the skill set to use their engineering mindsets while navigating everyday challenges, both in and out of the classroom.
Paige LaPoint, Director of Student Organizations and Leadership Programs in the College of Engineering, emphasizes the significance of conceptualizing the ELE program. “The idea for the ELE program came from a group of ten undergraduate students and myself. We knew that the College of Engineering needed some type of formalized leadership education for our students, but we weren’t sure what that looked like. The idea of the course, and having students navigate through the Center for Leadership and Involvement’s program, came from many discussions, research, data review, conversations with students. Ultimately, we determined that we wanted our students in the College of Engineering to graduate from this program with formal recognition” LaPoint says.
“What are your values, beliefs, strengths, areas for growth? How do we then take all of that knowledge and apply it to working on a team with other individuals who bring the same?” — Paige LaPoint
Undergraduate students who participate in this leadership program and exhibit their understanding of (and engagement with) the leadership learning outcomes get recognized with a Leadership Certificate from the Center of Leadership and Involvement when they graduate. The ELE program runs from the fall to spring of one academic year. To earn the Leadership Certificate, students must be able to demonstrate at least 100 hours of experience focused on leadership development on and off-campus, among other requirements.
“The program really focuses on the full development of the engineer: your technical abilities, as well as those you need to be a successful manager, employee, co-worker, teammate, or helper. We spend a great deal of the course talking about you, the student. What are your values, beliefs, strengths, areas for growth? How do we then take all of that knowledge and apply it to working on a team with other individuals who bring the same?” LaPoint says.
LaPoint also teaches the ELE program’s required three-credit class INTEREGR303: Applied Leadership Competencies in Engineering. This class gives students the opportunity to foster relationships with fellow engineering students while working with a local non-profit organization on their chosen community project, using their engineering skills. This academic year, the ELE program is partnering with the Adams-Friendship School District for one of the community projects. This project’s objective is to help improve career exploration opportunities for students. The second project involves the students working under the guidance of Brown County’s Deputy County Executive, Jeff Flynt, to evaluate autonomous vehicle routes for consumer cars or shuttles in Brown County, WI.
In addition to being involved with a community project, ELE students also participate in a young alumni mentorship program. These mentors, who are recently graduated engineers, help guide students through their personal and professional development journey. They also provide professional insight on subjects that are often tricky for undergrads to navigate, such as finding research opportunities, resolving the industry vs. graduate school dilemma, and conquering the start-up world.
Leadership is an invaluable trait for many employers. It can often be difficult to demonstrate leadership experience on paper, as it is a quality that is typically developed and exemplified through experience. However, the ELE program is a great way to enhance this important skill and to convey these experiences to future employers.
The ELE program has been received positively by the students with nearly 200 interested students this academic year. “We were able to narrow down the pool to 22. Our hope is to provide the ability for all students who wish to participate to do so through more sections of the course,” says Paige LaPoint. She plans to continue this program next academic year with the continued aim of making a positive impact on a young student leader’s professional and personal development and equipping them with leadership skills to succeed in their future endeavors.