A highlight for me from last fall was organizing the Professional Practice seminar for graduating seniors (CE 192). The goal of the class is to help students position themselves effectively and transition smoothly into the next stage of their professional careers.
Students engaged with an enthusiastic group of outside speakers (mostly Berkeley CEE alums), including a thought-provoking and stimulating panel discussion with three younger alumni. We also coached students on their résumés, job interview skills, seismic hazard awareness, ethics and professional licensure, and communication skills.
Students liked a mock job interview that we did with the teaching assistant in front of the whole class. In the weeks that followed, each student had to go through a similar one-on-one interview.
At the end of the semester, students wrote essays about their experience as Civil Engineering majors at Berkeley. There were many tributes to faculty members who are inspirational in the classroom and who help students individually during office hours. Students also praised CEE staff members who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help with hands-on experimental work in our labs, and to help students get things back on track when they run into personal and academic difficulties.
There was also an outpouring of appreciation for the role that student groups and competition teams play in enriching the undergraduate program. Students gain experience working in teams and improve their interpersonal and leadership skills, and they also learn technical skills ranging from welding to use of specialized computer software. These experiences give students an edge in seeking internships and full-time employment. Perhaps more importantly, students feel better connected to the Department and to one another, and form strong and lasting friendships.
There were also thoughtful suggestions about how things could be improved. Students expressed a desire to have more flexibility and the ability to take more courses in their individual areas of interest. There are questions about the degree to which a Berkeley education should emphasize theory and fundamentals, but as one student notes, “A smart person once told me to learn as much dry, dense textbook knowledge in school while you are forced to, as you will probably never learn it later.”
Another common thread relates to expanding course offerings in new areas, including systems-level approaches to managing civil infrastructure, and more on modern sensing, control, and computing tools. Students praise new course offerings such as Data Science for Smart Cities (developed and taught by Professor Alexei Pozdnukhov) and Design of Cyber-Physical Systems (developed and taught by Professors Steven Glaser, Scott Moura, and Raja Sengupta) as steps in the right direction.
If you have thoughts on any of the above, or news to share, we’d be very happy to hear from you. I would also welcome your help with ongoing efforts to upgrade and modernize instructional labs that are heavily used by our students.
Carl W. Johnson Professor and Chair