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Cornerstone Design for Sociotechnical "Grand Challenges"

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Monday Cornucopia (Classroom Innovations)

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Jenn Stroud Rossmann Lafayette College

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Jenn Stroud Rossmann is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Lafayette College. She earned her BS in mechanical engineering and the PhD in applied physics from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining Lafayette, she was a faculty member at Harvey Mudd College. Her scholarly interests include the fluid dynamics of blood in vessels affected by atherosclerosis and aneurysm, the cultural history of engineering, and the aerodynamics of sports projectiles.

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Hannah Stewart-Gambino Lafayette College

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This evidence-based practice paper describes the design, evolution, and assessment of a cornerstone seminar integrating disciplinary approaches to address the Grand Challenges. The NAE Grand Challenges are inherently sociotechnical, multidimensional and context-specific problems whose resolution requires meaningful collaboration among and across multiple disciplines. At Lafayette College, we emphasize this complexity, and require Grand Challenges Scholars to work in interdisciplinary teams. To foster such collaboration and lay a foundation bridging engineering and the liberal arts, we developed a linked pair of first-year-seminars addressing a “grand challenge.” Building on the WPI Great Problems model, these two First Year Seminars are team taught by a mechanical engineer and a political scientist, each addressing the problem of global hunger. In this evidence-based paper, we describe the development, evolution, and assessment of these seminars over four offerings.

Students from both sections work together in project teams and participate in discussions of course topics and shared readings. Readings include anthropological and sociological texts, introductions to humanitarian engineering and engineering design, as well as texts focused on ethics, and economic and political history. The course includes a community-based learning component as well as the development of a research & development plan for future engagement. The classes bring together students from all majors, helping all students appreciate both the value and the limits of their own expertise, and build creative and collaborative confidence in both their process and their products.

We will describe the development and implementation of these seminars, and the assessment and refinement over four offerings. This cornerstone experience lays a foundation for integrative education and creates a felt need for interdisciplinarity.

Rossmann, J. S., & Stewart-Gambino, H. (2019, June), Cornerstone Design for Sociotechnical "Grand Challenges" Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32551

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