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Faculty Senate approves RCEL certificate proposal

By Hannah Che     11/18/14 4:18pm

The Faculty Senate unanimously ratified the Leadership Certificate proposal for the Rice University Center for Engineering Leadership during its Oct. 1 meeting. The program began three years ago and has around 120 students currently enrolled, according to Kazimir Karwowski, executive director of RCEL.

Karwowski said the purpose of the certificate program is to train future engineers to develop leadership, management and teamwork skills outside the technical realm and to connect students with professional mentors and leaders.

According to Karwowski, the program was established as part of a broader movement outlined in a National Academy of Engineering report, “The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century.” Peer institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University have adopted similar engineering leadership programs in recent years.

“The days when an engineer could just get a solid academic background and expect to succeed in the world are over,” Karwowski said. “The program is part of a movement toward changing the way future engineers are educated.”

The newly-approved certificate is open to all engineering undergraduates and consists of 10 credits of coursework, experiential learning, internship and presentation components.

“It’s not a huge commitment, but it’s definitely something that you want to make sure you’re invested in,” Karwowski said. “If you actually invest in asking for coaching and mentorship and you look for multiple internships, you’re going to get a lot out of it.”

The certificate will appear on the student transcript as an academic credential, according to Karwowski. 

“Employers will recognize the certificate,” Karwowski said. “They will say, ‘You took a certificate in engineering leadership? Well obviously you have the skills that we’re looking for.’ We have companies interested in interacting with our students because of the training they are receiving.”

Karwowski said the long-term goal of RCEL is to expand from the current 10 percent of the School of Engineering involved in the certificate program to 20 percent. With this growth, an increase in faculty and resources would be necessary to maintain quality of instruction.

“I think that anyone [who] wants to pursue it should be able to pursue it, and we’ll grow accordingly without diluting the program,” Karwowski said. “Not everyone is a leader and not everyone wants to be a leader, so you don’t want to force people to do something they’re not interested in doing. But we want them to at least have the opportunity to try it.”

Jones College sophomore Austin James said the skills he has gained in leadership labs have been invaluable.

“The faculty will point out things that you may not have thought about, like the use of negotiation power in our everyday lives, and help you develop skills that you’ll be using as a leader in a company,” James said. “Everything we practice is applicable to our futures in the engineering field.”

Ryan McKnight, a McMurtry College senior, said one of the best parts of the program is having one-on-one advising with faculty mentors. McKnight is part of the Student Advisory Board that hopes to expand the program and steer it toward catering to a more diverse representation of all engineering majors. 

“The certificate program has given me the opportunity to invest in skills I wouldn’t learn in a typical class,” McKnight said. “I don’t know of anyone in the program that would regret it. I think in the next couple years, you’ll start getting people graduating from the program coming back and saying, ‘Yes, this has really impacted my personal development and my career.’ And I hope to be one of those people.”

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