Assistant Professor John Columbus talks workplace skills and software engineering education

Photo of Software Engineering Assistant Professor John ColumbusEarlier this year, John Columbus, Assistant Professor of Software Engineering, contributed a column to EdTech Digest titled “Teaching the Untaught,” which focused on how software engineers need to learn both practical and soft workplace skills while still in college, so they are prepared to contribute right away when they enter the workforce.

Here is a follow-up Q&A to that article:

What are some of the specific interpersonal and communication skills that are important for software engineers to have?

A key skill is the ability to interpret the customer’s comments and questions. The customer may have their own specific language just like we have our “technical” language. It’s up to us to understand the customer—not the other way around. Another key skill is writing. Engineers today write thousands of emails per year. We must be concise, understandable by all email recipients, and present our evidence/opinions correctly.

How do those skills come into play specifically in a software engineering context?

An example would be when a customer or business analyst informs the engineer they have a new idea to save time on invoice processing. The engineer needs to be able to understand the invoice process along with the requested changes. The engineer needs to examine the process and related software to determine possible options and their cost. This has to be conveyed accurately and effectively to the process/product owner so they can make an appropriate business decision. If the business leaders can’t understand the recommendations or why one choice would be better than another, they might make an incorrect decision or expensive mistake.

In the column, you mention teamwork in the context of graduates needing to enter the job market with a wide variety of skills—of not being “just” a coder. How does that kind of flexibility aid teamwork out in the real world?

Business is always changing. Keeping up with the demands for change has forced IT teams to be much more flexible. As a manager, I needed a team that could work on multiple projects where different people could play different roles to balance the work. A programmer would work on requirements on one project with the customer, code on a different project, and be the tester on a third project. With the concept of Agile, engineers may have to do different parts during the sprint, and the entire team must be flexible enough to complete the work. Engineers no longer have the luxury of doing just one piece of the entire software development life cycle.

How can students learn teamwork while still in college?

Many of us—me included—didn’t particularly enjoy group projects in college, yet they serve a critical role in helping us deal with the real problems at work. One of the main complaints we hear about group work is that someone doesn’t help out or is actually hindering the process. Unfortunately, that can be a common occurrence at work. Several real situations are that people may have several tasks to work on so something doesn’t get done. Workers may not understand the problem to solve or the process to fix it. And at times, people are simply overwhelmed. These issues happen during college group work and at work, so students need to learn how to effectively deal with it and still get the job done.

Your column mentions that the software engineering talent pool is global, and students need to be culturally sensitive in their interactions with colleagues and superiors. In what other ways can a global and culturally aware perspective benefit software engineers?

I’ve worked on projects with people from across the globe. Most people appreciate another co-worker who shows some interest in at least the basics of their background. Trying to understand a situation from their point of view will usually encourage others to be more flexible with you. This makes the teamwork go more smoothly. Also, you need to understand their point of view to see why they may be recommending a certain course of action or why they may be resistant to an idea. The days of working just with people that all grew up within 20 miles of where you grew up are fading fast.

I’ve also worked on projects where the members are scattered across the globe, and I may be the only person in Minnesota on the team. If I have team members in the rest of the U.S., I must also be aware of the different time zones. When working with a team in India, finding a time to chat online may require flexibility from all members. The internet has broken down the distance barrier so engineers must adapt to that new reality.

Dunwoody’s Software Engineering program launched the fall of 2017. Applications are still open for fall 2018. Learn more about Software Engineering.

Construction Management students benefit from sitting down with industry representatives

Mock interviews = real life lessons

The interviews may not have been “real,” but there was real benefit in the experience.

This April, representatives from 12 companies in the construction industry led mock interviews with 12 Dunwoody students in the Construction Management and Construction Project Management program areas. The students walked away with their questions answered and gained some tips and advice to keep in mind when applying for future positions.

Participating companies included: Prominent Construction, LLC; Constructive Builders; H&B Elevators; Kraus-Anderson Companies; Inside Edge CIS; Parsons; Mortenson Construction; Trex Commercial Products, Inc.; CliqStudios/Wayzata Home Products; David Weekley Homes; and Apex Construction & Tile.

Student takeaways

“What I learned from the mock interview was things to keep in mind about the company I interview with – finding out about a company’s values – especially as it relates to the employees.  The most helpful tip was how to focus on my strengths and relay this to a perspective employer and their Human Resources department.”

-Dana Maier, Construction Project Management, expected graduation May 2018

“The mock interview was a great opportunity to get in front of potential industry employers in a pressure-free environment with instant feedback to responses as the questions were asked.”

-Travis Northway, Construction Management, expected graduation May 2019

“What I learned from participating in the mock interview was that you should always come prepared with questions for the company. You want to know what they will do for you just as much as what you will do for them. What I found most helpful was that the recruiters helped us refine our resumes and helped us with how to answer questions.”

-Tyler Fish, Construction Project Management, expected graduation May 2019

“These types of mock interviews give students, such as myself, adequate exposure to what a real life interview is comprised of. You get a firsthand look into what verbal and mental skills may be required to succeed. All that paired with interviewers giving instantaneous, genuine feedback helps me build a platform for continuous growth in my field.”

-Kyle Bliss, Construction Management, expected graduation May 2018

 

Dunwoody names two Distinguished Teachers for 2018

Tom Larson & Richard Thomson honored for their commitment to students

Excellence in teaching and a commitment to lifelong learning are two of the reasons Machine Tool Technology Assistant Professor Tom Larson and Applied Management Adjunct Instructor Richard Thomson were awarded the 2018 Distinguished Teacher Award by Dunwoody College of Technology.

Larson and Thomson were presented with the awards during the April All-Employee Meeting, and both instructors were given medallions to wear during the College’s commencement ceremony this May.

The award is presented annually to a faculty member who has committed a significant portion of their career to the art of teaching and who demonstrates a consistent ability to instill critical and creative thinking skills in their students. In addition, they have demonstrated a commitment to the field of education and building effective relationships within secondary education and industry.

2018 Distinguished Teacher Award Tom Larson

Pictured (from left): Dean of Robotics & Manufacturing Programs E.J. Daigle, Machine Tool Technology Assistant Professor Tom Larson, Provost Jeff Ylinen, and President Rich Wagner.

Tom Larson: Dedicated to his craft and his students

For more than 28 years, Larson has been educating future machinists and manufacturing technicians in his roll as an educator at Dunwoody College of Technology.

“Tom is an outstanding instructor, and his students appreciate his meticulous attention to detail and extensive explanations of CNC programming,” said E.J. Daigle, Dean of Robotics & Manufacturing Programs.

Larson was instrumental in the concept and creation of Dunwoody’s program Right Skills Now for Manufacturing in 2011, and since then he has worked with his students to obtain more than 600 National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials.

“Combining all of this with his willingness to work after hours, including most Saturdays, to maintain and repair equipment makes Tom a crucial resource to the success of a machine shop,” Daigle said. “Tom’s role at Dunwoody cannot be discounted.”

“Receiving the award, which was totally unexpected, was a very gratifying experience,” Larson said. “If you pursue vocationally what you enjoy, and work at perpetuating the craft, the end result will undoubtedly be a satisfying one.”

2018 Distinguished Teacher Award

Pictured (from left): President Rich Wagner, Applied Management Adjunct Instructor Richard Thomson, and Provost Jeff Ylinen.

Richard Thomson: Putting students first

As both a faculty member and an administrator, Thomson has spent the majority of his career dedicating himself to ensuring that all students get the best education possible.

“His selfless, servant leader attitude is demonstrated on a daily basis,” said Michael White, Dean of Applied Management. “His dedication to his students is commendable and goes way above the expectations for any faculty member.”

Thomson holds his students to a high standard, but works proactively and fairly with them so they can be successful.

“He always believes in his students, even when his students do not believe in themselves,” White said. “There are countless success stories found in his students, who would not be successful without the incredible dedication, caring, and teaching excellence exemplified by Richard.”

Always willing to adapt new technologies, Thomson took on the challenge of finding a new way to deliver distance learning. In a short timeframe, he worked to create a webcasting option that delivered an outstanding class to his students. The Applied Management program now uses this as the standard delivery method for the program. ­

Computer Technology students build gaming desktop for Make-A-Wish recipient

Dunwoody partners with Make-A-Wish Minnesota

Photo of two students with a computer case

Dunwoody Computer Technology students preparing the case of the computer before installing all of the components. Note the three fans on the unit. Those, plus the water-cooling system, will keep the computer from overheating when playing graphically demanding video games.

A group of six Computer Technology students volunteered on a Saturday last month to grant a wish for a teenager with a critical illness by building him a high-end gaming desktop. The effort was coordinated by Make-A-Wish Minnesota.

In order to maximize the computing power, Dunwoody students and faculty sourced individual components for the desktop. The students guided the wish recipient through the assembly of the computer, which included the installation and configuration of Windows 10 Pro.

The desktop build included:

  • Intel Core i7 7800X X-series Processor (water cooled)
  • 16GB RAM
  • GTX1070 Graphics card (8GB DDR5)
  • 250GB SSD
  • 4TB Hard Drive
  • 1000 watt power supply
  • CORSAIR Gaming K95 RGB Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
  • CORSAIR – M65 PRO RGB Optical Gaming Mouse

All students in Dunwoody’s Computer Technology degree programs—including Computer Networking Systems and Web Programming & Database Development—take a course their first semester that introduces them to the basics of computer systems, including hardware and operating systems.

Machine Tool Technology students showcase their creative thinking in Rube Goldberg Machine project

Rube Gold·berg (adj.)
ingeniously or unnecessarily complicated in design or construction.


It took them weeks to build, included hundreds of parts and dozens of steps—and it was over in a matter of minutes.

But the end result couldn’t have been more perfect.

Five teams—each comprised of three Machine Tool Technology students—recently demonstrated their creative thinking and problem-solving skills when they were challenged to build a Rube Goldberg machine.

Each machine was to involve a series of devices performing simple tasks, all linked together to produce a domino effect in which activating one device would trigger the next.

A minimum of 10 steps per machine was required.

Students push project bounds further

If all of that wasn’t complicated enough, the students decided they also needed to up the ante. Part way into the project, the teams decided that every one of the machines should also be linked, and that the last step in each machine should  trigger the first step in the next team’s machine.

And it was up to each team individually to decide exactly how that would be accomplished.

The results were both creative and ingenious and included everything from balls rolling down ramps to sound activation that played “Eye of the Tiger.”

“It all worked flawlessly,” said Russ Gallaway, a Machine Tool Technology student.

From L to R: Yong Pha,  Marc Leahy, and Russ Gallaway

That “flawlessness” was the result of working one to two days a week for about a month on the project. When completed, each machine was about 4 feet deep and 5 feet tall.

“It was all about creative problem solving,” Gallaway said, adding that his team, which included Young Pha and Marc Leahy, put their machine together with spare parts they scrounged from home and found in the trash.

Learn more about Machine Tool Technology.

Five Dunwoody students place in 2018 SkillsUSA State Competition

Two students advance to SkillsUSA Nationals.

Dunwoody College students performed well at the 2018 SkillsUSA State Competition late last month, bringing home two 1st place medals, two 2nd place medals, and one 3rd place medal.

Electrical Construction & Maintenance student Matthew Longendyke placed first in the Related Technical Math competition; Architecture students Karla Schmitt, Garrett VanRoekel, and Helena Perez placed first, second, and third respectively in the Architectural Drafting competition; and Automotive Collision Repair & Refinishing student Angel Paucar placed second in the Collision Repair competition.

Automotive Collision Repair & Refinishing students Tyler Thompson and Cody Huset, and Electrical Construction & Maintenance students Michael Notch, Angela Arndt, and Andrew Prestegaard also competed.

“SkillsUSA competitions provide so many benefits for the students,” Polly Friendshuh, SkillsUSA Coordinator and Competition Advisor, shared. “It’s not just a resume builder, but it’s also something that gives students a sense of pride and accomplishment. It is a way for them to show off the skills they have learned.”

Dunwoody heads to Nationals

Both Longendyke and Schmitt will advance to the SkillsUSA Nationals Competition in Louisville, KY, this June. This will be Longendyke’s second time competing nationally in the Related Technical Math contest. In 2017, he placed fourth overall.

“I always enjoy watching students participate in their events,” Friendshuh said. “You can literally see the nerves disappear when they are focusing on their projects.

“I am proud of each of our competitors in all the contests—especially for just for putting themselves out there.”

SkillsUSA: a Dunwoody tradition

Dunwoody has been proudly participating in SkillsUSA Minnesota for many years.

The competition, which celebrated its 51st anniversary this year, aims to bring together students, teachers, and industry to ensure America has a skilled workforce.

The College will participate again in the 2019 competition.

If you are interested in joining the 2019 SkillsUSA team, please contact Associate Director of Career Services Rob Borchardt at 612.381.3322 or rborchardt@dunwoody.edu.

Employee Spotlight: Steve Cunningham, Automotive Service Technology Senior Instructor

Where did you grow up?

The Minneapolis area.

Where did you attend college?

Dunwoody College of Technology. 

What is your degree in?

My field of study was Automotive Service Technology—the same program I teach now.

How long have you been working at Dunwoody?

17 years!

What is your favorite part about working at Dunwoody?

Forming and strengthening departmental relationships.

Where did you work prior to Dunwoody? For how long?

My background ranges from working for automotive franchises to obtaining a tech position at a dealership. I have over 20 years of industry experience in multiple segments of automotive.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Students’ interaction with all of Dunwoody’s advanced automotive diagnostic equipment.

What are you determined to do?

Continue to work for Dunwoody College of Technology until I choose to retire.

What do you enjoy most about Dunwoody’s labs/shops/equipment?

Our Automotive department continues to invest in the technology necessary to provide students with an excellent opportunity to learn. Students are exposed not only to the latest industry vehicles, but also to the tools and equipment needed to make repairs.

Dunwoody to offer five summer camps in 2018

Searching for something to do this summer? Interested in exploring Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) careers and Dunwoody programs? Look no further.

Dunwoody is excited to offer five different summer camp opportunities in 2018:

Youth Career Awareness Program (YCAP) College Prep Summer Camp: June 11-July 21, 2018
For students completing their junior or senior year in Spring 2018.

YCAP Summer Camp is a six-week camp that helps prepare high school juniors and seniors for college.

Campers will:

  • Explore technical degrees and career opportunities at Dunwoody
  • Take college-readiness courses
  • Participate in field trips and visits to job sites

Those who are accepted into a Dunwoody program after the camp will be eligible to receive a scholarship of up to $10,000/year for two years.

Questions? Contact Peggy Quam, Assistant Director of Special Initiatives, at pquam@dunwoody.edu or 612.381.3067.

Register for YCAP College Prep Summer Camp.


Stem Camp: June 18-21, 2018
For students entering their sophomore, junior, or senior year of high school in Fall 2018. 

STEM Camp is a four-day camp that allows high schoolers to explore topics in STEM-related fields.

Campers will:

  • Design and build projects
  • Experience 3D printing, electronics, code writing, CAD modeling, and manufacturing
  • Take a tour of Boston Scientific

Questions? Contact Janet Nurnberg, Industrial Engineering Technology Program Manager, at jnurnberg@dunwoodye.edu or 612.381.3351.

Register for Stem Camp.


Power Girls: June 24-29, 2018
For girls entering grades 6-12 in Fall 2018.

Power Girls is a 6-day camp, hosted at Girl Scouts River Valleys’  Camp Lakamaga in partnership with Dunwoody women staff and faculty.

Campers will:

  • Create hands-on projects
  • Practice construction and welding
  • Build a Tiny House

Register for Power Girls.


 Discover Interior Design Camp: June 25-28, 2018
For students entering their sophomore, junior, or senior year of high school in Fall 2018.

Held in partnership with RSP Architects, Discover Interior Design is a four-day camp that introduces high schoolers to the world of interior design.

Campers will:

  • Study color, materials, architectural drawing, and digital media
  • Work with established, professional designers
  • Visit local design firms

Questions? Contact Nada Sarraf-Knowles, Interior Design Assistant Professor, at nsarrafknowles@dunwoody.edu or 612.381.3352.

Register for Discover Interior Design Camp.


Arts-N-Crafts, Robots & Computing Camp: July 16-20, 2018
For students entering grades 6-8 in Fall 2018. 

Arts-N-Crafts, Robots & Computing Camp is a five-day camp that allows middle schoolers to explore the basics of computing through arts and crafts projects.

Campers will:

  • Build and program robots
  • Learn about Artbotics
  • Program with Scratch

Questions? Contact Rob Bentz, Dean of Computer Technology, at rbentz@dunwoody.edu or 612.381.8117.

Register for Arts-N-Crafts, Robots & Computing Camp.