Engineering students flex their communication skills at speaking contest


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State College of Engineering’s Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education held its semiannual speaking contest on Feb. 10, showcasing students’ skills in translating complex technical knowledge into engaging narratives.

The speaking contest was created 9 years ago to challenge engineering undergraduates to give a 10-minute presentation on an engineering solution to a societal problem. The finalists are chosen from the previous semester’s Effective Speaking for Engineering course, CAS 100A for Engineers, which had 15 sections in the fall of 2020.

“The creation of this course reflects that the College of Engineering is deeply interested in the presentation abilities of its undergraduates,” said Michael Alley, associate teaching professor and the coordinator of the contest.

Erin Carbaugh, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, was awarded first place in the competition. She completed the CAS 100A course in the fall semester and was selected to compete through her coursework.

She dedicated her speech to blue energy — an emerging topic that proposes using the interactions of salt water and fresh water in the ocean to generate electricity.

“We should be using that energy to help combat water pollution,” Carbaugh said. “There hasn’t been a lot of research on blue energy yet, but there is a lot of potential to fight against climate change.”

She virtually presented on the topic to more than 200 students during the final competition. Her goal was to effectively communicate the science of blue energy and engage the audience on the topic.

“The goal was, whether you had a doctoral degree in science or no scientific background whatsoever, you could watch my speech and gain an appreciation for blue energy,” she said.

In total, more than 350 engineering students complete this course every semester, underscoring the college’s teaching philosophy that strong communication skills are integral to a successful engineering career, according to Alley.

“Engineers are only as good as their ability to communicate their ideas,” Carbaugh said. “You’ll need to pitch your ideas not only to other engineers, but also to businesses and investors. If you can’t communicate the information effectively, you won’t be able to put your idea into action.”

Rachael Kate Yanalitis, a student majoring in mechanical engineering, earned second place. Two People’s Choice awards were given to Eden Elma, majoring in chemical engineering, and Rebecca Shaw, majoring in computer science.

“In my view, given the high quality of presentations in CAS 100A for Engineers, all of the semifinalists and finalists are winners,” Alley said.


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