New and seasoned STEM students use ePortfolios to create professional leverage
June 5, 2018
First-year general engineering student Edward Liu and doctorate of philosophy graduate Wael Saab are in two different stages of their education. However, they both benefit from creating an ePortfolio through the University Libraries.
First-year general engineering student Edward Liu uses his ePortfolio to showcase skills in coding, data structures, and Android operating systems as pursues his academic goals in the field of computer science.
Liu was introduced to ePortfolios in the course Honors Portfolio Practices, where he learned how to maintain his profile and organize his work examples. The course also focused on writing experience reflections, presenting personal work, and developing a visually engaging portfolio.
“Since I didn’t have much college experience at the time, I started my ePortfolio with mechanical and electrical engineering projects from high school,” he explained. “But now that I’m taking more advanced computer science classes, I can center my portfolio on my Java and data visualization projects.”
Over the course of his first year, Liu took two classes — CS Software Design and Data Structures — which allowed him to begin tailoring his ePortfolio to his career objectives. Unlike many introductory courses, these courses were project-based. The projects allowed Liu to chronicle all stages of practical computer science work, from code structuring to execution.
“I can show parts of my work that a resumé can’t express, such as my thought processes and structures,” Liu said.
Liu sees firsthand how his ePortfolio engages others. In December, he presented at the Fall 2017 ePortfolio Showcase, and in April 2018 he presented at the Student Experiential Learning Conference. His audiences ranged from a panel of local industry professionals at the showcase to professors and other undergraduates at the conference.
“These two experiences really got me thinking about how I can use my ePortfolio professionally,” he said. “At the showcase, the panelists asked me about my ideal employers and helped me understand how I can show off employable skills in my projects. At the conference, I used my presentation skills and helped people visualize computer science concepts by navigating them through my project steps.”
The platform includes a feature that converts all project pages to a single document complete with pictures and brief project descriptions. Using this, Liu plans on attending the Engineering Expo next fall, equipped with both his resume and portfolio.
“I like [the ePortfolio program] because it’s ongoing — I update it when I create new projects,” Liu explained. “It spans more than my resumé, and it’s also more personal because it shows specific examples of what I’m interested in as a future professional.”
Liu is excited to present his portfolio at the engineering career fair. Over the summer, he will work to perfect his overall focus and visual details.
Recent graduate Wael Saab has gone from Ph.D. candidate to Adidas engineer after earning his doctorate in robotics and mechatronics at Virginia Tech.
While many doctor of philosophy graduates choose to become instructors in their fields, others use the extensive skill set they’ve acquired to take on industry work. Through constructing his ePortfolio, Saab found the latter to be his professional direction.
Saab was introduced to ePortfolios during the last year in his program when he came across an invitation to participate in the Fall 2017 ePortfolio Showcase. When he created his ePortfolio, he noticed a trend throughout all of his projects.
“Many of my projects in my ePortfoliio centered on my published research,” said Saab. “As I uploaded them, I noticed certain skills reappearing — skills such as mechanical design and manufacturing — as well as some of the software I’m proficient in. As you build your ePortfolio, you start to see these trends, which is helpful in deciding where you should go professionally.”
Since much of his ePortfolio showcases applied projects, Saab elected to seek industry work and interviewed with Adidas. Saab brought his ePortfolio to the interview and showcased his relevant projects. The activewear company was impressed that some of Saab’s past work focused on the same manufacturing principles used for product design.
“Adidas engineers are keen on characterizing elements of fabrics because doing so influences how products get manufactured,” he said. “So, I showed them a project I had done where I created a robot that moves with fabric on its feet. Properties of that fabric were exploited to produce optimal robot locomotion, and the fabric can be modified to any sized robot.”
For each of his projects, Saab provides visuals as well as a detailed description. This way, readers can walk through his experiences step by step and fully understand his engineering capabilities.
“My ePortfolio provides an accurate representation of my work,” Saab explained. “My projects may be very technical and straight to the point, but I also offer explanations of my methodologies and interpretations of my research. That way, employers can also see my thought processes in action.”
Some of the strengths of an ePortfolio include multimedia elements and skill hashtags. Saab uses these features to both engage his audience with videos and diagrams, as well as become part of the portfolio platform’s communities that also use similar hashtags. These tools help him make more connections in his industries of interest.
“I will maintain my ePortfolio throughout my career,” Saab said. “I enjoy getting to see the diversity of my projects, the skills I implement, and how my work has changed over time. It’s helped me determine my strengths and weaknesses, and it’s been beneficial to both me and the company I will be working for.”
Learn more about the University Libraries ePortfolio program.
— Written by Alec Masella