This case study concerns the employment of a coursework assessment constituting a 40% weighting of a 3rd year 10 credit module (CL305 Construction Project Management). This was an ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) to support and promote learning (see McDowell, 2014). The coursework required the students to engage in active learning through considering their Personal Development Planning (PDP) and how this links to their ongoing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and the Initial Professional Development (IPD) that they will undertake on graduating into an engineering organisation.
On enrolment at university, undergraduate civil engineering students begin their journey towards a professional career. Associating with graduate engineers throughout their studies provides students with potential role models and assists them to accustom progressively to the industry. Whilst the procurement of guest practitioners to deliver workshops and lectures remains buoyant, opportunities for students to secure summer placements within the civil engineering sector has been problematic since the 2008 financial crisis. Graduate mentoring of student mentees can help to bridge the shortage of vocational placements.
The main objectives in establishing the mentoring initiative was to expose the students to real time civil engineering in practice in order to provide a context for students’ ongoing learning and development. Fundamental to this was their exposure to real projects and multidisciplinary teams.
The results show that the student mentees overwhelmingly support and validate the opportunities that this initiative has provided. On completion of their mentoring meetings, and on return to their fourth year of their studies, the majority of the students commit to making behavioural and attitudinal changes regarding their own continued professional development (CPD).
A taster of the results are shown. A more expansive set of results are available in the published paper linked to below (Murray et al, 2015).
-534 (86%) students either agreed/strongly agreed that the mentoring experience had helped confirm their intentions to embark on a career in civil engineering after graduating.
-540 (87%) students either agreed or strongly agreed that they would pursue their own CPD on return to fourth-year studies.
Building a formal mentoring initiative into a 3rd year module with each mentee submitting a reflective report on their experience appears to work where it is ‘credit bearing’.
Use your Alumni list to contact graduates who are 2-3 years out and who would appreciate an opportunity to mentor students as part of their own CPD. Once the initiative is running for 4-5 years then the former mentees become the mentors and securing mentors becomes easier.
Securing departmental cooperation from colleagues to build the reflective report into a robust and holistic PDP system would be best. This would also ensure that the students have a longitudinal framework to enable them to become reflective practitioners from year 1 to graduation.
The mentees need to be reminded on several occasions that this is their opportunity to show their initiative and curiosity to potential employers (summer placement & graduate). Not all students are sufficiently mature or confident / motivated to assume responsibility for their own learning so working on these attributes pre-mentoring would prove beneficial.
Health &Safety - whilst at the mentors' work location the mentees are treated as visitors and covered by the employers' corporate insurance. Travel to and from the mentors work location is made by public transport and / or the mentees vehicles, all at the students' expense. The students are briefed on car sharing and a need to be safe motorists while conveying peer students in their vehicles. Given the number of journey iterations for all students, it makes individual risk assessments impossible.
Occasional problems with mentors being unavailable for meetings and / or cancelling last minute due to work commitments.
Ensuring that all students developed a professional approach when in the company of industry and acted as ambassadors of the university. This was fine albeit some mentors suggested that their mentees were not sufficiently curious and did not ask many questions.
Whilst an ideal mentor-mentee ratio would be 1-1 the class size each year (average n=80) prevents this. Groups of mentees (n=3-5 per group) make it possible to secure around 20-22 mentors from local industry.
The employment of graduates (often Alumni) to act as mentors to UG/PG student mentees is now quite common throughout higher education. This approach is particularly suitable for courses leading to a professional qualification and where the graduate mentors receive formal acknowledgement towards becoming chartered engineers / accountants etc.
E-mentoring is also growing in popularity and this removes some of the logistical and financial (time) barriers that could prevent face-to-face contact between the mentors & mentees.
Kolb DA (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, USA.
McDowell L (2014) Assessment for Learning, Chapter 6, In: Lynn Clouder, Christine Broughan, Steve Jewell and Graham Steventon (Edits) Improving student engagement and development through assessment, Special Indian Edition, India, Routledge, India, pp73-85
Murray M, Ross A, Blaney, N and Adamson, L (2015) Mentoring Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students. Proceedings of the ICE-Management, Procurement & Law, 168(4): 189–198. Available @ https://pure.strath.ac.uk/portal/files/43529494/Murray_etal_ICE_MPL_Mentoring_undergraduate_civil_engineering.pdf