June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.779.1 - 15.779.12
Integration of Engineering and the Liberal Arts: A Two-Way Street
Many of the engineering “grand challenges” that have been identified for the future require a multi-disciplinary approach that integrates engineering and liberal arts disciplines. The focus of the work presented here is on preparing students from both areas for these challenges through the integration of undergraduate engineering and liberal arts curricula. The desire for this integration is motivated by the need for a more technically literate citizenship, work force, and political leadership, fostered by providing opportunities for students in technical and non-technical majors to work together.
We provide examples of curricular integration that do not require wholesale restructuring, which use methods that can be easily replicated, and which can be developed through the use of modest incentives utilizing existing courses and expertise. The specific methods of integration tested include guest lectures, course modules from different disciplinary perspectives, and pairing courses from different areas to address related topics. The assessment results, based on faculty and student surveys, suggest that these are sustainable models that can have a positive impact on faculty development and on student learning. When combined with other initiatives, such as sharing ideas and experiences with other institutions, it may be possible to shift academic culture toward a more integrated approach to education.
In June, 2008, speaking at the first Union College Symposium on Engineering and Liberal Education, Union’s President, Stephen Ainlay quoted a Union commencement address from 29 years earlier, June of 1979. The speaker then was C. P. Snow, whom Ainlay quotes as saying, “I am hopeful that given a bit of good fortune there will be a culture within perhaps two generations far more unified, better informed, and with a deeper sense of life.”1
We are now one generation past that commencement address, and 50 years past Snow’s Rede lecture on the “Two Cultures.”2 Is bridging the cultures still important? And if so, what progress has been, or can be made to bridge the cultures? There are conflicting trends at work. On the one hand, the amount of knowledge in any field, technical or non-technical, is exploding at such a rate that to become expert demands greater and greater focus. On the other hand, addressing Snow’s lament and preparing students to work on complex, multi-faceted problems requires increased efforts to include more breadth in both engineering and liberal education.
This paper reports on one school’s pilot program to integrate engineering and liberal arts education, motivated by the need for a technically literate citizenship, work force, and political leadership, fostered by providing students in technical and non-technical programs opportunities to communicate with one another. Rather than take the approach of an institutional mandate for a “tech lit” requirement, we present models that are small-scale, portable, and that can be grown organically with the right incentives.
Traver, C., & Klein, J. D. (2010, June), Integration Of Engineering And The Liberal Arts: A Two Way Street Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16036
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