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An Optimal Education For An Engineer: The Bse In A Liberal Arts College

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Engineering Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.198.1 - 9.198.12



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Paper Authors

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W. Wentzheimer

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Gayle Ermer

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Steven VanderLeest

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1471

An Optimal Engineering Education: The BSE at a Liberal Arts College W. Wayne Wentzheimer, Gayle E. Ermer, Jennifer J. VanAntwerp, Steven H. VanderLeest, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

1 Abstract

How best do we educate an engineer whose career could last over 40 years? This paper examines the structure of the BSE program at Calvin College, a comprehensive liberal arts college in the Midwest. This engineering program emphasizes breadth, contextualization, and normative design.

For several decades, most engineering schools followed a trend of ever increasing focus on the details of one particular sub-discipline of engineering. Our program emphasizes breadth not only across engineering disciplines, but also uses a solid foundation in the liberal arts that provides the broad worldview on which effective leadership arises. Our outcome-based assessment of recent years appears to reflect an industry need for more breadth and thus less depth. While depth provides good preparation for entry level positions and the first five years or so of a career, contextualization better supports the full career span, which requires continual self-learning and often has leadership opportunities in technical and non-technical areas.

While engineering analytical skills are important, good design requires good communication, critical evaluation, creativity, and integrative multidisciplinary problem-solving approaches – skills that a liberal arts foundation provides. Integrative design implies normative design, i.e., design with ethical and social considerations intrinsic to the entire process.

The emphasis on broad fundamentals and normative design is not without challenges. This approach tends to generate programs that require more courses, are less flexible, and are less recognized than more specialized programs. We conclude by addressing the challenges and opportunities faced by our program and similar programs.

2 What is the Goal?

What is the goal of an engineering education? If graduates are our product, what is the specification of this product? Perhaps we should focus on the initial delivery, which for most graduates is to an entry-level engineering position and for a smaller number, it is to graduate

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Wentzheimer, W., & VanAntwerp, J., & Ermer, G., & VanderLeest, S. (2004, June), An Optimal Education For An Engineer: The Bse In A Liberal Arts College Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13213

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