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Technological Capability: A Multidisciplinary Focus For Undergraduate Engineering Education

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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

3.543.1 - 3.543.5



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Paper Authors

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Mark A. Shields

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John P. O'Connell

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

Session 1261

Technological Capability: A Multidisciplinary Focus for Undergraduate Engineering Education

Mark A. Shields, John P. O’Connell University of Virginia


Professional interest in the purposes and scope of liberal education for engineering students tracks a long history during this century, going back perhaps as far as the years immediately after the First World War.1, 2 Humanities and social science faculty at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (UVA–SEAS) have been active participants in that debate for more than sixty years. One of the most recent foci of interest in liberal education at UVA–SEAS is a cross-disciplinary emphasis on professional development. In earlier papers, we discussed the development and implementation of the UVA–SEAS Professional Development framework.3, 4, 5 This paper elaborates on one cardinal attribute of that framework–Technological Capability–and its implications for integrating liberal learning and technical engineering education.

Technological Capability

Technological Capability refers to the capacity of engineers to integrate technical expertise, sociocultural analysis, and professional ethics in analyzing and solving real-world engineering problems. It stipulates that graduates should possess the fundamental, historical, and contemporary knowledge of their disciplines, and be able to use it rationally and practically in a variety of professional activities including analysis, design, experiment, and manufacturing. Arguably the first and foremost goal of engineering professional development, Technological Capability also can serve as an integrative focus for multidisciplinary engineering education. While the necessary core of TC is technical expertise and engineering science, by themselves technical expertise and engineering science are not enough. They must be placed into broader contexts of relevant knowledge and practice–society, culture, and ethics–as recognized in both the ABET 2000 Criteria and in the Professional Development framework that we and others at UVA have designed (see below). 4

A "strong-program” interpretation of the ABET criteria would stress the importance not just of "supplementing” technical coursework with courses in the humanities and social sciences, but rather building more direct, systematic, and coherent links between the technical and nontechnical components of engineering education. Thus, by this interpretation, a strong liberal- arts foundation would be one that offers at least some coursework which explicitly integrates technical, social, and ethical analysis/problem-solving. Ideally, such coursework would also be developed and taught collaboratively (to some degree at least) by technical and nontechnical engineering faculty.

With these convictions in mind, we collaborated in fall semester 1996 by pairing our sections of

Shields, M. A., & O'Connell, J. P. (1998, June), Technological Capability: A Multidisciplinary Focus For Undergraduate Engineering Education Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--7465

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