Sports, arts and concrete canoes: Engineers learning to lead outside the formal curriculum

Few would disagree that engaging in opportunities beyond the classroom is central to engineering students’ leadership development. But how do we know this for sure? And, how do we know which extra-curricular and co-curricular activities have the greatest influence on students’ development? Our July paper “Sports, arts and concrete canoes: Engineers learning to lead outside the formal curriculum,” explores these questions and more.

Analyzing survey results from 1203 undergraduate students, Rottmann, Sacks, Klassen, and Reeve sought to identify the non-classroom activities which most shaped undergraduate students’ engineering leadership development. Findings suggest that leadership programming, student government and industry-based professional development activities were most effective at helping students develop their leadership skills, while internships, design competitions and professional development activities with an industry focus helped them hone their engineering skills and identities.

Results will be of interest to current students, educators and student life professionals wanting to pursue or offer the opportunities of highest value.

Key takeaways for students:

  1. In addition to leadership courses and workshops, students who were surveyed identified the non-classroom activities that had the greatest impact on their development. These included: paid work, student government and design competitions. A detailed breakdown of the most influential activities by area of development can be found on page 17.
  1. In general, the greater your intensity of involvement in leadership development opportunities, the greater your outcomes will be. However, participation in one-off or less frequent extra-curriculars did have a notable impact on students’ sense of leadership identity. So, don’t skip those drop-in workshops if you’re looking to find your own inner leader.
  1. The authors broke down participation rates by year, program, sex, ethno-cultural identity, commuting distance and professional identity. Have a look at the breakdowns beginning on page eight. Consider whether you think the landscape has changed, who is participating in which activities where, and whether improvements can be made to enhance inclusion and participation.
  2.  The only type of co-curricular activity that did not reach statistical significance as an enhancer of engineering identity was social impact involvement (see Figure 13). What might be happening here? How can we ensure that engineers committed to social impact retain their insider status within the engineering profession?

Read the full paper here.