Classes help socially awkward engineering students

geek1 32 Classes help socially awkward engineering studentsHelp is on the way for socially awkward engineering students. The Gemini Project, a new program in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering, is teaching social and professional networking skills to students who may struggle in those areas, specifically targeting engineering students.

Program chairwoman Tess Surprenant said training engineering students in social skills is an emerging national trend at technical colleges and something that was widely overlooked before. She said the university has prepared students with the technical skills, but not necessarily the people skills, required to survive in the job market.

“We’re looking to build better engineers,” said Mike Siegler of UTC Fire and Security, one of the volunteer speakers for the program.

Each of the 11 free classes covers a different topic and will be offered every semester. Students will learn leadership and personal networking skills, navigating office politics, teamwork and understanding generational differences between coworkers.

Plans for the program started in 2005 after some alumni donated $4 million with the stipulation that the university start teaching life and job marketing skills, Surprenant said.

Surprenant hopes to attract up to 100 students to each class. As an incentive, each session offers food such as pizza and brownies.

Steven Peschman, a chemical engineering undergraduate, wants to improve his chances of scoring a job. He said he plans to attend all of the classes, and has found them helpful.

“Social skills are not innate to me,” he said. “I’m here to learn the things that come naturally to other people, since they don’t come naturally to me.”

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