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Minding the Gap: How Engineering can Contribute to a Liberal Education

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication Across the Divisions II: Communication and Transdisciplinary Pedagogies

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1153.1 - 26.1153.9



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Paper Authors


Mark Valenzuela P.E. University of Evansville

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Mark Valenzuela is Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Evansville, where he has taught since 1999. He received both his PhD and MS degrees from Cornell University in the field of structural engineering. He received his BE degree from Vanderbilt University. He is a registered professional engineer in the state of Indiana.

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Valerie A. Stein University of Evansville

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Valerie A. Stein is Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Evansville, where she has taught in the Department of Philosophy and Religion since 2002. She became Director of the First Year Seminar Program in 2012. She received a ThD in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament from Harvard University. She received her MA from Luther Seminary in Old Testament and a BA from Capital University in both History and Religion. Her areas of specialization include the history of biblical interpretation and the role of the Bible in culture

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Minding the Gap: How engineering can contribute to a liberal educationIn his 1959 Cambridge lecture on the gulf that seemed to separate science and technology on onehand and the humanities on the other, scientist and novelist C.P. Snow lamented that “Thereseems to be no place where the cultures meet.” (Snow 1959) Even at a smaller school with aliberal-arts foundation and strong professional programs in engineering like the University ofXxx (UX), finding that place where the cultures meet can be a challenge, especially in its corecurriculum. All undergraduate students at UX, regardless of their major, take a third of theircurriculum in the general education program called “Exxx Fxxx.” The corner-stone of “ExxxFxxx” is the First Year Seminar (FYS) where freshmen are introduced to challenging texts sothat they may develop skills in critical reading, critical thinking, and effective written and oralcommunication.As is probably very common among many general education programs across the United States,a significant concern is developing in the students from engineering, nursing, business, and otherprofessional programs an appreciation for the value of an education rooted in the liberal arts. Inpart to address this concern, the director of FYS at UX (the second author), invited the firstauthor, an associate professor of civil engineering, to give the keynote lecture to all the FYSsections at the beginning of the school year in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The first author hadbecome alarmed by the number of engineers and architects who “demanded” a new investigationof the events of 9/11. For the keynote lecture, in addition to addressing the engineering aspectsof the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, the first author presented a criticalexamination of conspiracy claims and conspiracy literature surrounding the collapse of theWorld Trade Center Towers on 9/11, in part to demonstrate how the liberal arts help to frameconspiracy claims regarding a technological question (What caused the collapse of the WorldTrade Center Towers?) in social and historical contexts.After three years of having an engineer provide the keynote lecture for the FYS sections, theauthors decided to reexamine the premise of the keynote and also to critically reflect on thequestion, what can engineering contribute to the broader education of our students in the liberalarts? As a basis for this reflection, the authors turn to the educational objectives of the “ExxxFxxx” program as well as the educational outcomes of the Association of American Colleges andUniversities’ LEAP initiative (Liberal Education and America’s Promise).ReferencesAssociation of American Colleges and Universities. College Learning for the New GlobalCentury: A report from the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’sPromise. AAC&U. 2007.Snow, C. P. The Two Cultures and A Second Look. Cambridge University Press. 1969.

Valenzuela, M., & Stein, V. A. (2015, June), Minding the Gap: How Engineering can Contribute to a Liberal Education Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24490

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