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Global Engineering And The Liberal Arts

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.302.1 - 3.302.8

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Paper Authors

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Steven H. VanderLeest

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Edward G. Nielsen

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

Session 3561

Global Engineering and the Liberal Arts Steven H. VanderLeest, Edward G. Nielsen Calvin College

Abstract Design that targets emerging global markets requires not only good business sense, but also requires an understanding of foreign cultures. Students can achieve this broad understanding of society and humanity through education in the liberal arts. We have developed a new course that integrates global engineering and the liberal arts by immersing the students for one month in the engineering, business, and cultural aspects of a foreign (European) society. The course combines a number of creative approaches, including visits to a wide range of engineering sites in the commercial, academic, and government domains; a multidisciplinary team of faculty; and involvement of a larger segment of the home campus through a set of Internet web pages. Students achieve a number of important outcomes: discerning cultural differences, cultivating non-technical interests, developing critical thinking, and understanding global markets.

Introduction The liberal arts component of an engineering education is important. Engineering educators know it. Working engineers know it. Engineering managers know it. Unfortunately, engineering students do not. In the student’s mind, liberal arts courses are mere obstacles to be overcome in their academic program, offering no lasting value or merit. A variety of creative approaches have been attempted in the past to clarify the significance of the liberal arts course in the engineering curriculum 1-4. In this paper, we offer an alternative approach that provides the student with important skills in the area of global engineering while at the same time instilling an appreciation of the liberal arts. These two important academic areas complement each other remarkably well. We have developed a course, described in this paper, that combines the two – global engineering and the liberal arts – and the combination produces measurable improvements in student perceptions.

Why are the liberal arts important for the engineering student? Because the products they design are not designed in a vacuum, but rather are designed within a complex social fabric. Designs must not only meet technical specifications, but must also satisfy an intricate web of requirements that depend on the broader context of the product and the user y the economic, political, philosophical, aesthetic, theological, and historical milieu. For example, understanding political climates can help the engineer design a product that will meet current standards as well as probable future standards. Understanding the historical background of a locale allows the engineer to design a solution that meets user’s expectations and enables understanding of the uses of the product.

Why is an international experience important for the engineering student? Because the products they design can no longer be provincial: their products are increasingly sold in a complex global market. Products made at home can be sold abroad, and competitors from around the world can come into the local market. Today’s engineer must be perceptive about what the customer needs and how the customer perceives the product purported to meet that need. The problem

VanderLeest, S. H., & Nielsen, E. G. (1998, June), Global Engineering And The Liberal Arts Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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