Scope and Contents
The collection consists of materials from the beginning of the Cain Project in 1998 through ten years of its existence at Rice University. Included are proposals, course information, instructional materials, photographs of student work, reports of assessment activities, newsletters, dvds, and the final report of an assessment by off-campus researchers. In addition, the collection includes significant information about the university's composition requirements, testing, and recommendations for university-wide changes. There are reports that led to the formation of the Program in Writing and Communication in 2012.
Biographical / Historical
The Cain Project came into being because of a generous gift to Rice made by venture capitalist Gordon Cain. Having been drawn to Rice by a business interest in the work of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Richard Smalley, and making the acquaintance of Dr. Linda Driskill of the English Department, Mr. Cain, whose
experience had convinced him of the importance of successful communication in an engineering career,
pledged five million dollars over ten years to be used for communication training for Rice students in science and engineering courses. Mr. Cain pledged the gift in March 1998.
Rice Provost David Auston appointed the chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, Professor Ahmad Durrani, to lead a committee of faculty to oversee development of what became known as the Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication. Dr. Linda Driskill, Professor of English, became the project director. Gradually additional faculty joined the program. Dr. Tracy Volz was hired to develop instruction in oral and visual communication. Dr. Jan Hewitt was recruited to work with thesis-writing graduate students in workshops that met regularly to improve the clarity and accuracy of their written communication. When an interest on the part of students to turn their ideas into business ventures was recognized, Dr. June Ferrill was hired to teach a course developed under the auspices of the Cain Project, New Venture Communication. In addition, Dr. Mary Purugganan joined the staff to work with faculty in particularly the biosciences on incorporating communication instruction activities in their courses.
A consequence of requiring more writing in course assignments was an increase in the work required to respond to and evaluate what students did. The Cain Project took on the task of training students to assist faculty in these courses by working as writing mentors and graders.
Over the years additional specialists in communication instruction contributed to the Cain Project by presenting workshops and taking appointments as visiting faculty. Through the Cain Project, Rice was one of ten universities and six professional organizations that formed the Consortium for the Study of Engineering Education. In 2002 the Cain Project hosted the Sixth National Conference on Writing Across the Curriculum.
In addition to supporting communication instruction in existing particular courses, Cain Project faculty also developed short (two-hour) courses that were open to being signed up for by students in all departments. A series in the fall semester included the following: “Presenting Your Research,” “How to Recognize and Avoid Plagiarism,” “How to Write a Paper for Publication,” “How to Plan, Write, and Defend Your Thesis,” and “Data Display: How to Effectively Present Your Findings.”
The funding provided by Gordon Cain supported the Project’s activities through 2008. In March 2003 Director Driskill presented to the University administration a detailed proposal to be the basis for seeking funding to expand the Project’s work to a University-wide program titled Communicating in the Majors: Writing, Oral Presentations, and Visual Design. Although there was widespread faculty support for continuing and expanding the Cain Project, whatever fundraising efforts were undertaken were not successful.
Obtaining a formal thorough evaluation of the Cain Project was accomplished by hiring the Pennsylvania firm KSA Communication Design & Research, Inc. The firm’s report, “Engineers as Professional Communicators: Assessing the Impact of the Cain Project on Undergraduate Student Performance in
Professional Writing and Public Speaking at Rice,” was submitted on March 31, 2009. Its conclusion was decidedly positive. The authors wrote, “We strongly recommend that Rice continue its commitment to teaching professional communication in the engineering classroom. This study shows that for sustained improvement in the three genres studied here, engineering students require an even more extensive
faculty commitment to professional communication.”