Life Swap

Bryan Wagner

Villanova’s WiseCat and SGA President swap lives for a day:

Seniors communication major Tina Lamsback and civil engineering major Bryan Wagner attend each other’s classes and report back with their reactions to the differences between the colleges.

Tina’s reaction to engineering

Structure. Efficient. Cost Effective. Expedite. On my first day as an engineer, I had a plan: I was going to try to be a chameleon. If I have learned anything from my communication courses, it is that I needed to fully immerse myself into the culture. Today, the culture was civil engineering, and I was going to wear the “hard” hat.

In a world of engineering it seems as though there is a plan and usually one answer. I soon found out if this was a myth or a solution to my equation. Normally, I would jump right in, but today I wanted to be a sponge. I wanted these classes to open my mind with a different way of learning. As I walked into CEER, I realized that the classes were dominated by men, with a handful of women thrown in.

I made a bold move and strategically placed myself in the front row, ready to observe. Today, pencil and paper were my weapon and the TI-83 calculator was “God.” I had many preconceived ideas of what it would be like to be a civil engineer. I assumed that equations were central and that visuals were of the utmost importance. I expected to see lab tables and building experiments that would help each student learn. I suppose I was not that far off. Being hands-on is important in the world of engineering.

The class setting did in fact have long tables so the students could spread out and evaluate their work. In this class, the students were learning the groundwork for their visual experiments on how to build a structure. The professor stood at the front lecturing on two problems for the 50 minutes. I inferred from the constant chatter among the students that the equations were intricate and difficult.

The class touched on topics of what type of soil would be appropriate around the building, what the best material was to construct the building out of, which material was the appropriate one for the climate. What would be most cost-effective and safe was also important. Throughout the duration of the class, students solved mathematical problems, checking with each other to make sure their choices were correct.

Throughout my day as an engineer, I was taught ideas of professionalism and how to present engineering plans to companies. It was interesting to see how majors other than communication learned how to present their ideas on a PowerPoint. Visuals are key. In engineering, however, they are used differently. Diagrams and charts were validated as examples instead of visual media messages in movies, TV shows or popular music, to name a few.

As I review my notes, I think back to the day when I was in someone else’s shoes. As I skim my page of notes, I come across a quote, “The world is at your feet.” I believe this profound statement could be attributed to the first class I attended. It made me think. There are many differences between engineering and communication. Our ideas have the possibility of being the same, but our thought process is different. I spend hours talking about the effects of people’s actions and the importance of how to get a product or person’s name into the stream of media by analyzing the public’s actions and reactions, all the while developing a foundation for later research called life.

“The world is at your feet.” That is the similarity between the two majors. Day in and day out, students within each type of major focus on some type of path. Each have a plan to the end result. The light is, in fact, at the end of this tunnel for both. All of us have the job to research, infer and ask questions. Those attributes are what make the statement that the world is really at our feet true.

Bryan’s reaction to communication

My day normally consists of engineering equations, complex math problems and my trusty calculator. However, over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend numerous communication classes to witness the differences between the two majors. Without my normal engineering routine and setting, I felt very out of place but quickly began to observe the various similarities and differences between engineers and communication students.

One of the biggest differences that I observed was the manner in which the classes are taught. My normal engineering class consists of the professor lecturing about a certain theory or method of solving a problem. Depending on the day, he or she may have an example problem to share with the class. In this case, students normally participate by trying to solve the problem themselves as the teacher does it on the board. We almost never give presentations and rarely have class discussions.

Quite the opposite is normal life in communication classes. On numerous occasions, the professor led discussions about that day’s session or the readings that were previously assigned. In one class, a group of students got to present that day’s lesson, teaching the class about communication and conflict. For me, this was a unique teaching method and was what I really enjoyed.

Another distinction between the two majors is the writing styles used by the students. As an engineer, I am trained to write in a technical manner. Our reports and papers are clear-cut, get to the point fast and don’t have extra description. But in communication classes, I witnessed students learning how to catch the reader’s attention and employ descriptive writing techniques.

In the public relations class I attended, I learned how to use short phrases and mini-paragraphs to draw interest to an event or announcement. After the teacher shared the rules for writing a professional press release, the class shared their ideas and worked together to formulate numerous examples. This process of trial and error to find the best product was familiar to me since we use the same method in engineering at times; however, I am used to finding a set conclusion, whereas there is more leniency in a “correct” answer in communication classes.

One of the aspects I really enjoyed about the classes was how they pull real-life situations or experiences into the classroom. In the family communication class, the teacher used the classic Nickelodeon show, “Rugrats” as an example of how our generation learned about different religions. Since I am used to learning about everyday topics such as roads, water and building foundations, it was interesting to examine how so much of my daily routine both today and in my childhood was influenced by some form of communication.

Over the course of my time here at Villanova, I have been a part of numerous group projects, so witnessing how communication students execute their senior project was interesting. I saw many similarities between the two majors. This professor challenged the group to think outside the box in innovative ways. She asked questions that make the students think and allowed them to defend their work, similar to how engineering teachers function.

As an engineer, we often complain about the large amount of work we always have on our plate and sometimes think that other majors get by too easily. After experiencing life as a communication student, I can honestly say that a great deal of hard work needs to be dedicated in order to succeed in this major too. Attending the classes was an eye-opening experience.