Fifteen graduates in the Class of 2015 earned the newly created Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL) Certificate in Engineering Leadership. The program is the first of its kind to offer coursework and experiential learning across four years. A similar program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a two-year certificate, open only to juniors and seniors.
“The program really brings out confidence in our students,” said RCEL Executive Director Kazimir Karwowski. “It helps them develop the skills necessary to have a direct impact when they first enter the workforce.”
Students must apply and be accepted to participate. Those accepted progress through a series of courses, leadership labs and internships, beginning their freshman year with ENGI 140: Engineering Leadership Development. Students must earn ten credits toward the certificate to complete the program.
As they work through the curriculum, students are given more opportunities to lead. In the leadership labs, they assume different roles on teams and solve weekly engineering challenges. As they become upperclassmen, the focus changes and they mentor underclassmen, deliver feedback and receive guidance from faculty. Students can earn credits in leadership development by taking on larger roles in class projects or in leading clubs. They are expected to keep journals chronicling their experiences, defining their leadership roles and postmortem reflections on their growth as leaders.
“RCEL is not a leadership program but a community and environment that challenged me to face my own teamwork demons,” said Rebecca Lam ’15, who earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering. “It showed me what it means to be an engineering pioneer. Through the RCEL labs and my position as a Leadership Lab TA, I learned how to take charge and be decisive, even when I had incomplete information. I learned to speak up and support my position in a group, and communicate a vision to my team.”
“RCEL drives home the concepts that other engineering classes struggle to teach, like negotiation, communication, innovation, how to motivate teams, and managing projects and your time,” said Stephen Palasi ’15, who earned his degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
“Many of these students may not have had an opportunity to lead before,” said Karwowski. “And in this program, they not only get coursework about what leadership is and how to communicate, they also have multiple hands-on opportunities to lead teams and mentor underclassmen. They learn that they do have the ability to do things like this in the future.”
“The RCEL program offers a unique learning experience to practice one's interpersonal skills and team dynamics,” said Lindsey Witte ’15, who majored in Chemical Engineering.
Summer internships are mandatory and RCEL encourages students to complete at least one, ideally after the sophomore year. The students are expected to secure the placement on their own, and before embarking on it must complete ENGI 240: Professional Excellence for Engineers.
Historically, it was understood that Rice engineering graduates made excellent employees with a solid grounding in their disciplines. The RCEL certificate formalizes that fact, cementing students’ abilities to lead the next generation of engineers.