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  1. This work-in-progress (WIP) paper aims to elucidate how students have developed professional skills since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and who are the people who have provided skill development opportunities. Because of the way social distancing affected engineering education during the pandemic, developing professional skills may have been a challenge for engineering students. While online courses and virtual meetings allowed students to remain in contact with faculty and each other, the opportunities to continue having deep relationships (i.e., strong ties) were sparse. Our paper presents an early look at findings from the qualitative phase of an explanatory mixed methods study conducted with 1,234 undergraduates from 13 schools in the US. Our ongoing thematic qualitative analysis reveals that the changes that accompanied social distancing and periods of emergency remote teaching caused by COVID-19 have reinforced different opportunities to develop professional skills than prior to the pandemic. While some students expressed they had fewer opportunities to develop professional skills, participants also identified opportunities to (1) hone written communication skills when inperson discussions were reduced and (2) leverage knowledge from family members to continue developing professionally. Our next steps include finishing the qualitative analysis phase of the project and mixing the qualitative and quantitative data to develop overarching findings that the engineering education community can use to understand how students’ professional skills develop and how to promote that development even during times of educational disruption. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  2. The purpose of our poster presentation is two-fold: 1) to provide an overview of our NSF project, Pandemic Impact: Undergraduates’ Social Capital and Engineering Professional Skills, and 2) to report our progress and preliminary quantitative findings. We hope to discuss our project and preliminary results with fellow engineering educators and receive feedback. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted engineering education in multiple ways that will continue to be felt for years to come. One of the less understood ways the pandemic has continued to leave a residue on engineering education is how social distancing and online courses altered students’ professional development. Of particular concern are students who were either new to the institution or started their college education during the pandemic. These students have potentially limited opportunities to establish social relationships at their educational institutions compared to students who already developed such relationships when the pandemic-induced online learning took place. The differences in students’ social relationships can have other, more profound impacts on their undergraduate engineering experiences. Research has shown that students’ social relationships provide them with connections to resources and supports essential for navigating an engineering program and help them obtain more opportunities to practice non-technical professional skills [1], [2]. Although social distancing measures diminished and students returned primarily to in-person, the pandemic has altered the development of engineering students in ways not understood. In particular, understanding the nature of students’ social interactions on campus and the types of opportunities for professional development is essential so that instructors and campus staff can respond to the developmental needs of students. As a result, the overarching research question for our project is: How do engineering undergraduates leverage relationships (operationalized as social capital) to gain opportunities to develop professional skills? 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024