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Design As A Liberal Art

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.331.1 - 6.331.8



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Paper Authors

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Thomas Rich

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James Baish

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

Session 2425

Design as a Liberal Art

James W. Baish, Thomas P. Rich Department of Mechanical Engineering Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA


Design is an activity that spans many disciplines and professions. In engineering, we associate design with the process of using mathematics and science to devise technical solutions to particular needs. Other fields, however, view design quite differently, but because design is a shared activity, with multiple faces, it can serve as a unifying theme for courses that bridge engineering with the traditional liberal arts.

At Bucknell University, the College of Engineering has offered two courses to liberal arts students that explore various linkages between technology and the liberal arts. The first such course called Form and Function: Design in the Natural and Fabricated Worlds is offered to upper-level liberal arts students, as well as engineering students. Form and Function deals primarily with how the form of an artifact is related to its function, where the function is broadly defined to encompass non-technical perspectives including art, economics, history, psychology, religion, etc. The second such course called Designing People is open to first-year students living in our residential college for Society and Technology. Here the students have a shared living and learning experience with like- minded students. Designing People focuses less on the artifacts of design and more on the people who do design and how society is affected by technological decisions made during the design process.

In both courses, students learn by doing. Since design is primarily an action or process, and less so a subject for passive reflection, we frequently engage students in studio-style, creative projects. By involving students in design projects, they learn the challenges and joys of design first hand. Our goal is to have the students appreciate that technology is not a mysterious force over which nobody has any control, but rather can be the product of their own minds and hands. We aim to empower them to exert active control over the direction that technology takes by involving them in the decision-making process that leads to technological innovation.

This paper will present information on the underlying philosophy, the course content, and special challenges of this style of instruction for liberal arts students.

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Rich, T., & Baish, J. (2001, June), Design As A Liberal Art Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9081

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