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Melding Perspectives From Government, Commerce, And Engineering In An Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Minor In Technology Management And Policy

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.320.1 - 1.320.5

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Paper Authors

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John K. Brown

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

Session 2261

Melding Perspectives from Government, Commerce, and Engineering in an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Minor in Technology Management and Policy

John K. Brown University of Virginia

Under the primary leadership of its School of Engineering and Applied Science, the University of Virginia is developing a new interdisciplinary minor, titled “Technology Management and Policy.” Open to all undergraduates, the TM&P minor seeks to combine the disciplinary perspectives of Engineering, Commerce, and Government to achieve a comprehensive program of technology studies that is grounded in real-world issues. This paper outlines some of the challenges we have faced in creating this minor, and it outlines in detail two team-taught, interdisciplinary courses that will serve as cornerstones for all participants in the program.

In presenting this progress report (for we are still in an embryonic state), I have three chief goals: to outline our proposed model of integrative curricular reform, to discuss some of the conceptual and organizational challenges we have faced in this initiative, and to describe the long term purpose of the minors program. We hope that Virginia’s program may serve as a model for similar efforts elsewhere. Equally we are still in the developmental stage, so any responses elicited by this report can influence our own progression.

In discussing an integrative, interdisciplinary program, the normal inclination is to open by describing all the various disciplines and approaches that will come together in novel, intellectually cohesive, and pedagogically exciting ways. I will get to that. First I want to outline a key limit to the scope of our program. Contrary to this session’s title, our major endeavor is not to bring engineering and technology to the liberal arts, nor are we simply promoting technical literacy. Both are worthy goals to which we hope to contribute. But this program’s unitary rationale is to study the formulation and impact of policies arising in the private and public sectors relating to the development, use, and regulation of technologies. This practice-oriented focus on technology policy is aimed to promote the utility and long-term vitality of the program.

The original architect and driving force behind Virginia’s TM&P program is Professor Paxton Marshall of UVA’S Electrical Engineering Department. He began with the insight that the disciplinary structure of the large research university is a source of intellectual strength yet a practical and pedagogical weakness. Its strength derives from the deep reservoirs of knowledge and specialized expertise possessed by faculty with years of study and research in their disciplines. Yet those disciplinary boundaries exist only in the university; the “real world” as our students call it lacks such convenient yet constraining walls. In fact, students will graduate into professional environs where challenges and problems are multi-disciplinary. Practical solutions to such problems call for novel combinations of approaches, disciplines, and professions.

The growing technological dependence of modern business, government, and society at large contributes to this disjuncture between specialized undergraduate studies and practical professional challenges. In the present age “the world we inhabit has become in large part a technological system.” 1 Yet the content of most undergraduate liberal arts studies scarcely acknowledges this undeniable truism. Conversely, engineers’ role in the modern era is to apply scientific and technical knowledge to achieve specified human purposes through private enterprises or public agencies. Yet woefully little of their undergraduate education prepares engineering students to identify those purposes or understand the enterprises or agencies that guide their work.

As this audience is aware, these problems have hardly gone unnoted, receiving much comment and

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Brown, J. K. (1996, June), Melding Perspectives From Government, Commerce, And Engineering In An Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Minor In Technology Management And Policy Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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