New course builds custom skills for international engineering students

Izabela Uscinski, a graduate teaching assistant for the English department, is teaching her students how to use punctuation properly in their writings. A new course, FSE 194: English for Engineering, is being offered to international students. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

Izabela Uscinski, a graduate teaching assistant for the English department, is teaching her students how to use punctuation properly in their writings. A new course, FSE 194: English for Engineering, is being offered to international students. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

“FSE 194: English for Engineering” launched this semester as a pilot program tailored to assist international students in the engineering program with the academic skills essential for their major.

To address the students’ distinct needs, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering partnered with the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to deliver the class, a one-credit studio course that pairs with ENG 107.

Traditionally, ENG 107 is a first-year composition course for multi-linguists that teaches the basics of critical reading, writing and idea expression to students who are learning English as a second language. But as a hybrid with the new course, it became customized to focus on the comprehensive engineering skills needed for the rest of the students’ careers.

English graduate student Yuching Yang, who teaches the ENG 107 portion of the course, helped create the new curriculum for the engineering students.

“This English 107, while still following the general requirements and objectives regulated by the writing programs, places more emphasis on helping students make the connection between general writing strategies and disciplinary-specific practice, genres and convention,” Yang said.

Since the course is specifically designed for engineering students, Yang can work collaboratively with the students to develop their major-based skills.

Because of the similar knowledge and experiences that students share about their majors, we are able to conduct conversation and discussion focusing on their needs and address their concerns,” she said.

To create an integrated learning environment between the two classes, Yang partnered with applied linguistics graduate student Izabela Uscinski, another graduate teaching assistant for the English department.

Uscinski teaches the FSE 194 portion of the program.

Students read through the guidelines given to them for their next assignment before the class dismisses. FSE 194: English for Engineering is being offered to usher new international students into American and ASU culture. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

Students read through the guidelines given to them for their next assignment before the class dismisses. FSE 194: English for Engineering is being offered to usher new international students into American and ASU culture. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

“There’s not much time devoted to written communication skills in engineering,” Uscinski said. “We believe students will benefit from having an emphasis on the writing skills.”

Uscinski said she will focus on the technical side of writing in the major, so that the students will be exposed to working with that genre.

“A lot of international students struggle with writing reports for engineering,” she said. “Samples I will be providing them will be papers that were written in engineering, like lab reports.”

Uscinski said the course could be beneficial for all first-year engineering students, not just international students, because it teaches core skills that are vital to the major.

To complete the course, students must demonstrate certain abilities: to develop and deliver an effective presentation, to understand the importance of spoken and written communication among engineers, to complete projects and tasks in teams and to understand ethical concerns in engineering research.

Sepideh Jafarzadeh, an aerospace engineering major, is the teaching assistant for FSE 194 and connects with the students as a peer mentor.

“I went through the whole learning English (process),” Jafarzadeh said. “This course is designed, in mind, for students who are still mastering the English language.”

Jafarzadeh was born in Iran and took multiple English as a second language courses when she came to America, along with ENG 101 and 102.

“I wish this class was around when I first started at ASU,” she said.

Because both Uscinski and Yang have their degrees in English, Jafarzadeh provides the students with past experiences in the engineering school and offers information for their future classes.

“Engineering is a lot of data, but you have to be able to write it,” Jafarzadeh said. “In major courses, you are not taught how to write those reports.”

Yang Zhao, an electrical engineering major, is enrolled in his first year at ASU and said he’s glad he signed up for the course.

“We want to write better in English for engineering,” Zhao said. “(This class is) very helpful (and) very useful.”

Carrie Robinson, the associate director of Academic Achievement and Student Success for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, collaborated with both schools to form the new course.

“The biggest benefit of this (program) is that they learn about American higher education and the expectations of them as engineering students in their first semester, which will then help them be successful in the rest of their time at ASU,” she said.

Kenji Wong, an international transfer student from Malaysia, discusses the class materials with Izabela Uscinski during class. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

Kenji Wong, an international transfer student from Malaysia, discusses the class materials with Izabela Uscinski during class. (Photo by Ryan Liu)

Robinson said it’s not uncommon for international students to have trouble with the American presentation-based education system.

She said she doesn’t know if this new hybrid course will expand to other colleges and schools around campus but looks forward to the feedback they will receive at the end of the semester.

In fall 2013, 3,269 international undergraduate students enrolled at ASU, accounting for 5.3 percent of the total undergraduate population, according to the ASU Institutional Analysis report.

That number has grown substantially since the 2012 ASU International Enrollment Report, which recorded 2,319 international undergraduate students. The same report illustrated that 42.6 percent of the entire international population at ASU was enrolled at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Mike Sever, the assistant director of Academic Services at the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, said the new course is praise-worthy.

“I think it’s a really good step the University is trying to take to welcome (the international students) a little more,” he said.

Reach the reporter at anish1@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @nishes_wishes