Engineering News Winter 2015

Peter Stephens and Benjamin Lynch hone their improve skills.

Peter Stephens and Benjamin Lynch hone their improve skills.

Engineers Acting Up

We're all familiar with the stereotypes of engineers—they are considered by some to be introverted, lacking in social and communication skills, and perhaps a bit rigid. Spend any time in the boisterous study areas of SCU’s engineering hallways and you will have a different opinion, but for introverts and extroverts alike, the prospect of public speaking can bring on a bad case of stage fright.

So, keeping in mind that a requirement for graduation for SCU engineers is participation in the Senior Design Conference where teams present their progress on year-long capstone projects in front of an audience of alumni, parents, and Silicon Valley leaders, and in keeping with our Jesuit commitment to educating the whole person, the School of Engineering offers Improv for Engineers (ENGR 170) to juniors and seniors each winter quarter.

Brenda Woolley, an actor with 30 years' experience in theatre, has an affinity for teaching the craft of acting and improvisation to non-actors. "People fear public speaking more than death. Acting is an abstract art form that gives rise to a great deal of fear, but I find engineers to be really open to thinking outside the box, and they are courageous in delving into the imagination."

Through trust games and exercises in breath, relaxation, voice, and improvisation, students focus attention and energy on a part of the brain that may be under-stimulated in their more technical classes, building confidence in creating and performing in public as they learn to see things through the eyes of a different person.

"For those who take on this challenge, the payoff is sublime; it's a joy that gives birth to something deep down inside that they always wanted to bring out. It's a gem inside and that is inspiring to me," said Woolley.

Benjamin Lynch and Peter Stephens took the class last year in preparation for Senior Design. "Putting on a different face when doing a presentation helps with the jitters," said Lynch, who subsequently also found it easier to give a quick spiel to potential employers about himself at career fairs. Stephens agreed, "It really helped me prepare for Senior Design—getting in front of people and improving my ability to think on my feet was a big plus. Knowing that I had been there before and knew how to attack being on stage took some of the fear away. Beyond Senior Design, it's important for engineers to have a wide variety of skills in the global workplace."

Benjamin Lynch, Peter Stephens, Engineers Acting Up