Guiding students through the communication process

Photo by Noah Bryant

When sharing technical research and projects, bridging the gap between in-depth knowledge and a general audience is challenging, and can be made more so through common mistakes in communication. Luckily, Tech and the College of Engineering offer several resources to guide students through the communication process.

Jacqueline Snedeker, the Director of the Technical Communications Program for the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, works tirelessly to make sure that students have the tools and experience necessary to overcome these obstacles and common mistakes.

She works with students at the beginning of their first year all the way through graduate education utilizing various programs, a senior lab class and individual advising to prepare and assist students at all levels.

For students, the ability to effectively communicate one’s technical background becomes important right off the bat during their first semesters at Tech.

“I’ve had a lot of younger students come to me for help with their resumes and cover letters, especially with the upcoming career fair,” said Snedeker of her recent work with underclassmen.

However, no matter one’s stage in college or beyond, the basics can never be over stressed. Whether creating a presentation for a group project, a lab report or an internship application essay, cogently sharing what you find to be important truly matters.

“For some students, one challenge is that they haven’t been immersed in writing since high school,” Snedeker said. “So they may need a refresher on the basics of writing that they learned years ago such as proper organization of paragraphs, sentence structure and even grammar and punctuation.”

They also have to learn how to communicate concisely and clearly with a technical audience that wants the bottom line first.

Yet, this is just scratching the surface of effective communication. As the director of technical communication, Snedeker works with undergraduate students in her senior level course, Unit Operations Lab. In this class, Snedeker uses her experience as a technical writer in industry, as well as her 15 years of experience at Tech, to work with students and to refine their communication processes.

It is here that Snedeker sees communication addressed in a meaningful way.

“At this point in their college careers, students understand the importance of communication skills because they have used them on the job, whether through internships or co-ops, and are motivated to practice and become more effective communicators,” Snedeker said.

It is with similar motivation that Snedeker seeks to direct the enthusiasm of her students in the many facets of communication. Through projects such as posters detailing technical findings, technical reports and short explanatory videos, Snedeker combines the benefits of modern technology with the basics of effective communication.

“With the way writing has changed over the past 10 years because of social media and cell phones, I’ve had to adapt the way I present material and change the ways students’ work is shared,” Snedeker said.

However, while it is easy to become accustomed to the casual interactions of modern life, the basics of writing reports and communicating via email are still very important.

“Writing is a constant. I often remind students that they need to know how to write a report, how to write an email. With friends, you probably don’t often send each other emails, but in the corporate environment, communication via email is regular,” Snedeker explained.

Snedeker sees classroom instruction coupled with individual advising as being the foundation of clear, effective communication.

“I spend a lot of time working through drafts with students, and that’s really how communication is taught. Each student is on their own level, and through individual conferencing, I’m able to meet with students and work with them on what they need specifically,” she said.

Past undergraduate education, Snedeker works with graduate students to help with thesis presentations and research reports, and has more plans in the future.

“I give lectures on effective communication skills in an introduction to research class for our graduate students, and I advise students on applications for prestigious fellowships,” said Snedeker of her involvement with graduate students.

Thus, by beginning with underclass students and by working all the way through graduate students, Snedeker helps to create a foundation and build upon it to create a unique, powerful form of communication.

Together with her colleagues in other schools, and with the various campus resources, such as the Communication Center in Clough and the Language Institute, Snedeker works to make a student body better prepared to face whatever challenge may await in the ever-changing realm of communication.

The College of Engineering is proud of its many in-house technical communications programs. The directors of these programs, all faculty members in their schools, are experts in the field of technical communications including Dr. Brandy Blake (ISYE), Ms. Christina Bourgeois (ECE), Dr. Jeff Donnell (ME), Dr. Amanda Gable (MSE) and Dr. Lisa Rosenstein (CEE).