Can-do engineers

What did you do over the holiday break?

Fifty-nine of our extraordinary undergraduates spent six action-packed, 15-hour days at the Alliance Redwoods Camp in Occidental, California, learning how to tap into their highest potential for leadership through a program called the LeaderShape Institute.

This national program, conducted at more than 70 sites every year, inspires young people to dedicate themselves to changing the world for the better. It teaches them how to identify their personal ethics, cultivate respect for one another’s differences, make thoughtful decisions and banish the word impossible from their vocabularies.

These students, primarily sophomores and juniors representing men and women from a range of majors and diverse cultural backgrounds, were chosen from nearly 100 applicants. Their activities—including small- and large-group discussions as well as trust-building and problem-solving exercises—encouraged them to speak up for themselves, be creative and take risks, pushing them beyond their technical and intellectual comfort zones.

You can read a full report on the workshop in next month’s Innovations, but for now, suffice it to say that the students were energetic, focused and amazing. For five nights they slept in yurts. For six days they had no cell phone reception or Internet connection. They used payphones!

Participants made connections with students from other classes and engineering majors, connections that wouldn’t have been possible in classrooms or libraries. From the reports I’ve heard, many of the students came back to campus and immediately applied the lessons they learned to their educational experience.

LeaderShape beautifully serves the college’s goal of educating leaders through a more supportive undergraduate experience. This past year, in addition to expanding our Engineering Student Services office, we doubled from 19 to 40 the number of students in our Pre-engineering Program (PREP), an intensive orientation for new students in engineering basics, college study techniques and social skills.

We also expanded our freshman orientation from a box-lunch lecture to a full-day event and community-building exercise to help students initiate relationships that will support them throughout their next four years. The Engineering Student Council is now working with the college to plan a week-long celebration of the engineering community during this spring’s Engineers Week, March 7 through 12.

These efforts also align with our mission of serving society, as our students return to their campus activities, their personal lives and, ultimately, their professional paths with a renewed dedication to foster positive change.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

S. Shankar Sastry
Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering
Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies
Email Dean Sastry