Being able to explain your work is a critical skill for any engineer, and Andy Winholtz’s efforts to instill it in Mizzou engineers recently earned him the Win Horner Award for Writing Intensive Teaching.
Winholtz, an associate professor in MU’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, joined Jim Noble of the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department as the College’s winners of the award, which began in 2012. The accolade seeks to acknowledge faculty who “start a new Writing Intensive (WI) course or take a new direction with their WI teaching.” The award is named for former MU professor of linguistics Win Horner, who chaired the committee that created the first “Writing Across the Curriculum” program at MU.
“I was very honored to receive the award,” Winholtz said of the honor, bestowed by MU’s Campus Writing Program.
MU requires students to have at least six credit hours of writing-intensive coursework to graduate. The MAE Department spreads those out throughout nine different core courses to allow students to spread out their efforts as they build necessary skills.
Writing for engineers is an incredibly vital skill. Engineers have to write reports, journal articles, papers, presentations and more in search of jobs, research funding, publication in prestigious journals and more. The ability to pair prose with graphic elements and mathematical equations is important to hone.
“It’s learning that when you make a graph that it’s pretty obvious what it means (to you), but it’s not obvious for somebody who’s coming to it cold,” Winholtz explained. “You need to explain it. Same with figures you draw. Graphs, charts — all that stuff.
“That’s quite apparently something that doesn’t come natural. There are some conventions for that, but you just have to do it.”
“Just do it,” isn’t just a slogan that’s sold millions of shoes over the decades; it’s Winholtz’s philosophy about student writing. Many engineers spend their first year or two in college working on fundamentals and principles and get out of the habit of writing. Getting them back in rhythm is the key to success.
“A comment I see a lot or used to get a lot is ‘I haven’t written anything since high school,’ mostly from juniors since they’re in a technical field,” he said. “If they’ve got credit from high school for certain courses, they won’t take a writing course or have writing assignments. One thing is just making them do it. That’s not much teaching other than being the policeman, but that’s a big part of it.”