Do Civi's Form a Community?

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Posted on 11 Apr 2013 21:05

Stefanie Reichman

Research project on the discourse community of civil engineers at City College.


There are many opinions on what makes a community a discourse community. Two different authors have two very separate approaches. John Swales believes in a very cut and dry list of things a community must have in order to properly be called a discourse community. While Elizabeth Wardle takes a much more social approach to a discourse community discussing the steps in which an outsider goes from a stranger to an insider. In the following paper, a survey proves whether the department of civil engineers at City College counts as a discourse community according to Swales. And later an interview proves Wardle’s words true. Though we know that the department is a kind of community, the question remains whether it properly accomplishes all six qualifications set forth by Swales. Furthermore, this study is important because hopefully after reading and reviewing the statistics, it would make it clear to a freshman or incoming student what steps need to be taken in order to optimize their role in the community. Once this department has successfully met the six criteria set forth by Swales proving this department to be a discourse community, it is the student jobs to implement Wardle’s social approach to joining this community.
Introduction: CE department in City College

One community that few have truly researched is the discourse community at City College. This community is one of a kind, because of the mixture of different ethnicities and faculty members that all contribute to this community. What we do not know is whether this community correctly proves to be a discourse community according to the qualifications set forth by John Swales. Furthermore, is the insider outsider balance determined the way Wardle describes it to be. The things we know about this community is the magnitude of students accepted into the program each year, and the myriad of clubs offered by the CE department. Other things that are known about this community are the multitude of faculty members that are geared towards helping students do the best the possibly could in this department and their careers.


The research method taken in the project was starting out with a simple survey. A survey consisting of nine questions was sent to an array of students in the civil engineering department. Of these students 45.45% were freshman, 27.27% were sophomore, 9.09% were juniors, 9.09% were seniors, and 9.09% were super-seniors. The questions in this survey ranged from grade level, to whether the participant felt like an insider or outsider. A copy of the survey is included at the end of this. The survey was a means of understanding what the community is like from a student’s perspective. It was found that many students did think that this community counted as a discourse community. This is because these students believed that this community has a group of members that share lexis, and have common goals. Results are further explained in the results section.
The questions in the survey were based off of Swales’ six characteristics for a community. Ranging from different forms of communication, to lexis. Using the website survey monkey, a proper survey was conducted by sending the survey out to different people that are a part of the department, as well as posting the link on the City College Civil Engineering Facebook page; in this way a nice balance between grade level, and honors status can be maintained and somewhat regulated. As results started coming in the data was analyzed through the different graphs and tables provided by survey monkey. Some of the tables are included in this paper.


Based on the online survey given to a limited number of civil engineering students a better picture of the community in question could be drawn out. 80% of participants believed that the CE department was considered a community. One person even boldly stated “There is no major at CCNY that has a closer student network that the CE department.” Some of the reasons that the department was deemed a community was because it contained the following “Good communication and the dedication of all members to help the community succeed.” Another wrote “A group of people with a common goal or interest.” 10% of the people in the survey wrote that they were unsure whether the department truly was a community, the reasoning “not everyone in the CE department knows each other and all the CE people don’t meet. From the data collected a trend shown was that freshmen and sophomores were more inclined that say that the CE department was not a community. Perhaps this is because they have not had as much experience in the department and have not been properly introduced. Though this may be partially the students fault for not becoming more aware and meeting with people, and joining clubs it is also the departments fault.
70% of students admitted to share lexis. For example “dzaamn” or “G-man” but it is clear from the replies that students are very adamant about certain terms that they feel really makes the department. Again the 30% of students that said the department did not use lexis were all freshmen. This is easily explained by their lack of serious involvement in the community. At this point it is important to distinguish who is an old timer in this community. These people range from faculty members, upperclassmen, and alumni. People who are able to answer a student’s basic questions about the department are considered old timers. These are the types of people you go to for advice, and counseling about any worries a student could potentially have in their careers. One of the great things about the community though is that it is constantly changing and evolving into something much better and greater. This is because every year there is a new crop of newcomers, whether transfer students or simply high school students that are starting college for the first time. Faculty members are also constantly changing. And as the old-timers step away from the limelight they make room for the new students and new additions to the community.

One of Swales qualifications for making a community a discourse community is a common goal. According to the survey, it seemed that most students seemed to believe that the goal of the CE department is to “prepare all CE students for the future work that they will possibly get involved in.” most students seemed to have said similar responses. Other students furthered this goal by saying that the department helps students get though the studies and offer “sufficient facilities to the students.” It is clear from student’s responses that these responses are shared throughout most members of the community. Another important group of members of this community are the faculty. It is clear that they share in these goals with the students. This is evident through the myriad of emails that the CE department sends to students. Amongst these emails include information about scholarships, internships, and department trips and activities.

As previously discussed, many of the community’s goals are established through direct contact of faculty to student predominately via email. Email therefore is the primary form of communication. Email ranked highest in the survey as the main form of communication at 89%. Tied for second place were meetings, Facebook, and calling/ texting at 78%. Memos accounted as the smallest percentage at 11%. This this community does revolve around the students most of these forms of communications are used to communicate about things school related and that is most probably why Facebook and cell phones are so important in this community. Both these forms of communication as well as email, offer a direct contact with both students and teachers. In today’s world were most everybody has a smart phone, information and communication is in everyone’s fingertips. In this community is seems that email and cell phones serve as their own genre. This assumption is based on the definition of genre being “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content” as defined by Miriam-Webster dictionary. By this definition it is clear that the community, through its style and way of running things, uses both these genre to be able to fully optimize the work it does.

According to all the research done through the survey and interviewing certain students it is clear that the department of civil engineering students at City College is clearly a community that satisfies Swales’ categories. Though it satisfies these qualifications, it is clear that in order to fully realize that this department is a true community it is absolutely necessary for a student to be an active member in the community. Meaning that though every student is automatically a part of the community, they also have to do the extra step of meeting upperclassmen that will give them the most insight. At the end of the day, a student will not truly be a part of the community until they start taking classes, since that is where most of the student-teacher and student-student interaction will happen, crucial to being a strong member of the community.

Insider vs. outsider

Elizabeth Wardle wrote the paper “Identity, Authority, and Learning to write in New Workplaces”. In this paper she discusses the three things that a newcomer has to go through in order to be considered an insider, or old timer. The first of the three things is called engagement which refers to the initial social interaction between the newcomer and the old timers. This stage in a newcomer’s road to becoming an insider can either be a positive experience, where they meet many people and are enthralled. On the other hand, this can also be a negative experience in which newcomers are frustrated by their lack of involvement, and do not know what they are supposed to be doing. Ultimately these newcomers can lose their identity amongst all the old timers. The second step on the road to acceptance is imagination. This step occurs after engagement, and is the time when the newcomer starts finding their place in the community. Their identity starts to get molded into what their new job is as a part of this community. They start to identify themselves more with this community. The third and final step to this process as described by Wardle is alignment. As the name may suggest, this is the part where newcomers align their ideas with other people in the community, mainly the old timers. In this step old timers start accepting newcomers in the community, as the newcomers start feeling more comfortable and make observations.

The second part of the research for this project is analyzing how the three step that Wardle describes work for a newcomer in this community, and whether it even applies. For this portion I will be using person experience as my main research, I will however include some ideas from other people of when and what influenced that to become an insider to this community. When I started in City College, I did not know anything in this community. All I knew was where the engineering building was, and one upperclassman. My first experience, which Wardle would call my engagement, would be an alumni panel meeting about jobs within civil engineering. The meeting was called for mostly upperclassmen, but I was interested in hearing about what they had to say so I decided to attend. Though my experience was an overall positive experience, it was also a wakeup call in some respect. I entered a room with around thirty boys, and maybe five girls, one of them being on the panel of speakers. As I walked in many people were looking at me, and not knowing anyone else in the room was extremely uncomfortable. Looking around the room, you could tell who were insiders, and the few outsiders that attended. Insiders sat with fellow students, and were comfortable asking the panel questions while outsiders seemed to be more like wallflowers simply observing what was happening around them. It was clear from this experience that the people with the most authority in this community are people who have been in it the longest, and gain authority through the knowledge that they have acquired; not only from their studies but also the priceless advice of faculty and alumni. After this meeting I meet more people in the department, and at some point I underwent imagination. I believe that this step isn’t as pronounced as the other two. This happens slowly and one day you realize that your identity is intertwined with the goals of this community. In this case though, I think that most people go through this stage automatically, because we are all a part of the same ‘community’ by being a part of the department.

Lastly alignment, I think I knew I underwent alignment when I started to be asked by high school seniors to tell them about the program and the school. It was when I could answer their questions effectively that I knew that I was no longer just an outsider. Not too long ago, a fellow member of the community, asked me some questions, and made some strong assumptions about the department and when I could give him the desired answers and rectified his assumptions that I felt much more comfortable with my place in this department. I think some of the things that contributed to becoming more of a member, in this community; include meeting more fellow department members. I have also had the opportunity to start doing research with a professor in the civil engineering department. This experience has given me the feeling that I am not simply an outsider, however an active participant of this community. I plan on being a more active member of some of the civil engineering clubs on campus next semester to continue my growth. I do believe that a community is constantly changing and growing, and therefore in order to really be an insider that needs to be accepted and the member needs to be willing to change with the community accordingly. According to my personal experience I believe that Wardle’s ideas about community have proven to be true.


It is with great hope that this research will help fellow students feel more a part of the community, but also use these results to prove that this is in fact a community. The responses given by many can also be used as a guide to incoming and freshman students on how to further themselves. A sort of “how to” paper on how to become involved and which avenues other people have taken that they think would be most beneficial for newer students to follow. Lastly, stereotypes a topic that plays a big role in engineering in general. Most engineers are stereotyped for being nerds. The profession is also assumed to be exclusively male. These stereotypes have been established for hundreds of years. Women were never seen as equal, or even able to do the jobs that men could do. This research was all done to not only help all freshmen and transfer students. But also show the females out there that it is possible to conquer in this field. Of the survey 40% was female. This goes a long way in two different directions. Firstly, it is great that there is a representation of female students in this department, as opposed to other schools that have much smaller percentages of women in their civil engineering department. Secondly, it goes to show that females are still being under represented. There is something for being said that this stereotype of girls being inferior to boys in math and science holds girls back from applying and going for these kinds of professions when scientifically there is no research done that has or even can back any of that up. Therefore, it is with great hope that this research helps a student, whether male or female. To realize that this department, or community can be joined as long as the proper steps are taken to fully integrate oneself into this warm and spirited discourse community.

Works Cited

Wardle, E. (2004). Identity, authority, and learning to write in new workplaces. Retrieved from

Swales, J. (2009). World of genre—metaphors of genre. In C. Bazerman, A. Bonini, and D. Figueiredo (Eds.), Genre in a Changing World (pp. 1 -16).Retrieved from

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