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  1. Background. It is well recognized that current graduate education is too narrowly focused on thesis research. Graduate students have a strong desire to gain skills for their future career success beyond thesis research. This obvious gap in professional skill training in current graduate study also leads to the common student perception that professional skills beyond academic knowledge should only be gained after completion of thesis research. Purpose. A new program is being developed to rigorously integrate professional skills training with thesis research. The approach is to establish learning communities of Graduates for Advancing Professional Skills (GAPS) to incorporate project management skill training from industry into academic research. The GAPS program seeks to address two fundamental education research questions: How can project management skill training be integrated with thesis research in graduate education? What is the role/value of learning communities in enhancing the training and retention of professional skills and the effectiveness of thesis research? Our proposed solution is that graduate student learning communities engaging in a blended online and classroom approach will promote learning of professional skills such as project and time management in thesis research activities. The purpose of this session is to establish the connection between project managementmore »and thesis research, and demonstrate the beginning progress of the GAPS program towards. Methodology/approach. The following progress is being made to establish GAPS learning communities through which to teach and practice professional skills. A website has been developed to introduce the program, recruit participants, provide information on the online modules, and survey results of participants’ current levels of knowledge and skills related to project management. A new course, “Introduction of Project Management for Thesis Research”, has been added to the course catalog and open to enrollment for students from different majors. In addition, learning modules including project charter, scheduling, communication, teamwork, critical path method, and lean concept are developed. Case studies and examples have been developed to help students learn how to utilize project management skills in their thesis research. Conclusions. The concept of integrating professional skills training with thesis research through learning communities has been demonstrated. There are multiple advantages of this approach, including efficient utilization of the current resources, and faculty buy-in. Preliminary data from the first cohort are being collected and analyzed to identify students’ needs, benefits of the program, and areas of improvement for future cohort iterations. Implications. The GAPS program will improve professional skill training for graduate students through communities of practice. This new learning model has the potential to fundamentally change the culture of graduate education. We believe the method demonstrated here can be broadly applied to different engineering majors, and even broadly to all thesis research.« less
  2. Background: Project management and other professional skill training is often lacking in graduate student education, typically as a result of limited resources, lack of faculty buy-in, and narrow focus on thesis research. To address this need and with support from NSF, we are developing the Graduates for Advancing Professional Skills (GAPS) program at Iowa State University. To aid the initial development of this program, we conducted a literature review to understand the current context of the development and implementation of professional skills in higher education curricula, with specific interest in STEM fields. Purpose: The purpose of our study was to identify best practices related to implementing professional development skills into an academic curriculum. The goal was to utilize this information in the development, planning, implementation, and assessment of our GAPS program. Design: We engaged in a systematic literature review. We focused on the curricular and pedagogical approaches to implementing these skills, results of the initiatives, and methodologies used to assess their effectiveness. Results: Our literature review uncovered the “messiness” of teaching and learning of skills such as project management. There is often not one approach or definition of project management – it may change based on scope of project andmore »context. Successful implementation requires adaptability, mentorship, problem solving, creativity, and communication. Additionally, project management has been referred to as a “threshold concept” and requires a certain level of intuition that cannot necessarily be gained through traditional classroom education. Conclusions: There appears to be an agreement on the importance of implementing project management skills at the postsecondary level. Our work illustrates the difficulty associated with undertaking this endeavor and provides guidance on approaches that can make these initiatives more beneficial. Although this literature was conducted to aid in the planning for our specific project, the synthesis of the extant works can inform other faculty and industry leaders who are interested in teaching and applying project management techniques in their courses or companies.« less