CM assistant professor awarded a train-the-trainer grant to prepare students for professional written communication

John Killingsworth, Ph.D.Teaching both technical skills and soft skills such as communication can be a challenge in construction and engineering programs. Yet good communication skills are often critical to the success of collaborative projects in the professional world. The Department of Construction Management at Colorado State University recognizes Assistant Professor John Killingsworth, Ph.D., for being the recipient of a grant awarded by the Engineering Information Foundation.

In his first year of teaching in his prior institution, Killingsworth, had identified the need to improve students’ professional written communication skills. To address this need, he collaborated with a faculty member, Mitch Ogden, Ph.D, who taught in the English and professional communications departments, University of Wisconsin-Stout. They teamed up and co-taught two semesters in a learning community where construction management students could take both their Methods and Materials course, and English Composition course together. These courses were merged so the writing assignments were contextualized for the construction industry.

The learning community was followed by a U.S. Department of Labor grant, which allowed the pair to apply their lessons to workforce development issues. This work also led to an Associated General Contractors of America-funded grant where both Killingsworth and Ogden were embedded into two different construction companies to observe and learn about common communication practices in the industry. Wanting to share what they had learned with other CM faculty, they submitted their proposal to the Engineering Information Foundation, and received funding to support the train-the-trainer program.

The proposal stated how the most successful Construction Managers and Engineers (CMEs) are proficient and versatile “professional communicators.” In a typical day, a CME will communicate with an owner, a developer, an architect, an engineer, and multiple trade partners. It is critical that they understand each audience, navigate many document types, and effectively transmit their needs to other collaborative partners through a variety of media platforms. While most accredited CME programs have done very well to prepare their graduates to understand the required technical skills, feedback from the industry consistently reports that students are under-prepared in their written communication skills as they enter the workforce.

Extending the collaboration between a construction management professor (Colorado State) and a professor of professional and technical communication (University of Wisconsin–Stout), this project will provide instruction to ten Construction Management faculty and graduate student instructors at CSU. The initial two-day workshop provides training to help instructors teach targeted communication skills through in-class instruction and intentionally designed assignments.

To establish these targeted communication skills, faculty participants will be led through an examination of the writing skills that are deployed by professionals in the workplace, based on faculty members’ expert knowledge of practices in the field, and input from industry advisory board members. This establishes a grounded reality of the professional communication skills that students will need as practicing CMEs. This deep and intentional examination of discipline-specific writing skills and practices is very often neglected in faculty development, which tends to rush towards training without customization for the participants.

The Department of Construction Management is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.