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It's A Material World An Engineering Experience For Non Engineers

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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

3.382.1 - 3.382.8

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Paper Authors

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Daniel Walsh

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David Gibbs

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Alan Demmons

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

Session 1664

It’s a Material World An Engineering Experience for Non-Engineers

Daniel Walsh, Ph.D., Alan Demmons, David Gibbs, College of Engineering Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Abstract Our society becomes more technically complex each day. Key problems faced by society are rarely characterized as problems of science and technology; they are grouped as social, economic or political problems. However, it is clear that social, economic and political issues intersect, and that technological advance and innovation is at the heart of each intersection -- sometimes causing the problems, but more often presenting solutions that elevate the human condition. The thesis of this presentation is that it is incumbent upon the university to ensure that each of its graduates has an understanding of technical issues which will allow them to participate fully in society and meaningfully in the dialogues which will lead to governmental policy decisions in the future. At Cal Poly we have developed a schema to address this need, built primarily around materials engineering topics. The proposed structure is true to the character of the institution and presents non-engineers with a real exposure to technology. Assessment results are presented and discussed.

Introduction Cal Poly is currently reevaluating its curricula, indeed its very role as a polytechnic university. Part of that reevaluation is a discussion of educational expectations and desired outcomes for non-technical majors. Should liberal arts majors be aware of the strong effect of technology on our culture? Should music majors appreciate the links between their discipline and computers? At first glance, it seems that the answer is a resounding yes. The University Strategic Plan calls for all Cal Poly graduates “to have acquired knowledge regarding technology, its importance to society and its impacts on natural systems”. Our Visionary Pragmatism Task Force asks Cal Poly faculty to integrate technological and humanistic areas of study: “Graduates of Cal Poly will possess a uniquely balanced and integrated knowledge and understanding of technology, mathematics, sciences, humanities and the social sciences.”

The Technological Society Our society is technologically driven and technology centered. Thus, an understanding of technology, a technological literacy, is a critical prerequisite for full participation as a citizen in the Twenty-first Century world. Indeed, the key public challenges are rarely characterized by government as questions of technology, they are assumed to be socio-economic-political problems. However, key issues often intersect, and technology lies at the center of the intersections, sometimes causing the problems, but more typically offering possibilities for their solution. In its connection to human affairs, technology now defines our culture in much the same way religion or philosophy has in times past. It profoundly changes lifestyles, and can reinforce or collide with our most strongly held values. It modulates the most celebrated passages of our human existence with artificial interventions during birth and on the deathbed. Unseen and often unnoticed, technology dictates our future. Computers, embedded in commercial jets, traffic control systems, cars, lawnmowers, watches, washing machines and toasters, do much of society’s rote thinking. These devices and others like them redefine our lives and often produce a cautious and complicated optimism about the future.

The CSU System The educational imperative of the California State University (CSU) System has its roots in the period between the great world wars and in the GI Bills after the Second World War. With unmatched egalitarian educational fervor, the American public supported the aims of this educationally progressive era. Education was driven by an effort to


Walsh, D., & Gibbs, D., & Demmons, A. (1998, June), It's A Material World An Engineering Experience For Non Engineers Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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