UC Berkeley College of Engineering launches a new course to help engineers become better communicators

By Jessie Ying

Credit: iStock

A new undergraduate course called the Art of STEM Communication will be launched Spring 2019 at UC Berkeley. The course was created by the Dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering (COE) Tsu-Jae King Liu and will be co-taught by her and freelance journalist Sonner Kehrt. The goal of this course is to train engineering students to communicate their work effectively with non-technical people.

“After talking with alumni, parents and executives from the industry who hire our engineering graduates, I got consistent feedback that Berkeley engineering students could use more training in effective communication,” Tsu-Jae said.
Dean Tsu-Jae King Liu (Credit: HKUST Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study)

“In particular, they need to learn how to communicate with members outside of their community, especially those from the management teams who often come from a different background, in order to get the credit they deserve for their achievements,” Tsu-Jae explained.

This new course seeks to address this issue by teaching students the basics of storytelling, reporting, researching and interviewing. Students will then need to find a research project within the college and write about it using the knowledge they have learned. This also serves Tsu-Jae’s other goal with the course: to recognize and publicize research that is being conducted within the college.

“We don’t do enough to tell our stories, to make all the great things that we do here visible,” Tsu-Jae said in a meeting with COE staff and faculty.

Currently, there is only a four-person marketing and communication team within the college that covers these stories. With this course, students will be able to showcase research that has been overlooked in the past. At the end of the semester, they will write blog posts about the research that will be posted on the college and university websites.

Credit: Noah Berger

Sonner, a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumna, will be co-teaching the course with Tsu-Jae. Before becoming a journalist, she was a public affairs officer for a research ship where she gained experience of translating scientific research into publicly consumable content for non-scientists. Bringing her expertise in communication, she and Tsu-Jae will provide a duo prospective in the classroom.

“It’s challenging for people who are immersed in research to communicate (their work to non-scientists). It’s also challenging for people on the other side of that divide to understand what’s going on. So I think having someone on both sides adds balance,” Sonner said.

Alex Beliaev, who oversees the communication courses in the Master of Engineering program (MEng) at the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership, has helped to develop this course. “Our goal is to support the students as they commit to create a piece of media that matters to people outside of their immediate research community,” he said.

“It’s not the same course, but both commit to creating a piece that matters to people outside the immediate research community,” he said.

The communication courses have been an important component in the Fung Institute’s mission to foster not only engineers, but also leaders in the technology world. Tsu-Jae hopes this new course will also help undergraduate students with their professional development.

“It’s not uncommon for Berkeley graduates to be really good engineers and stay in engineering forever, while you see graduates from other universities become managers of Berkeley engineers,” she said. “If we want our students to become leaders, we need to do a better job of preparing them to be effective leaders which means to be effective communicators to non-engineering members of our community.”

Access the Art of STEM Communication course description and enrollment information.