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The Case for Engineering as a Liberal Art

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Infusing Engineering with Art (and Vice Versa)

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


R.F.A. Hamilton Siena Heights University

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R.F.A. Hamilton is the Director of Engineering at Siena Heights University. His research interest primarily on improving student performance in entry level courses. His background is combination of Engineering, Physics, and Education.

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The idea of the liberal arts dates to ancient Greece. At this time the liberal arts consisted of the trivium and quadrivium. It is from the trivium and quadrivium that what we today think of as the liberal arts has arisen. As the body of human knowledge expanded so did the liberal arts. The expansion was to include the skills necessary for an individual to be a knowledgeable member of society. Modern life is permeated by technology. The basic understanding of this technology can be built by understanding the basic ideas of engineering design and application. Thus engineering should be considered as a liberal art. Much like the focus of a liberal education in science is about learning the scientific method, engineering liberal arts is about learning the basics of engineering design and application. These basics are how an idea is turned into a design and how the design it changed over successive iterations to improve it. Engineering developed as a vocational field primarily away from the academy. This lead to the development of a separation between engineering and other fields. Engineers take a limited amount of courses other fields, and those form other fields take virtually no engineering courses. The grand challenges currently facing engineering have a decidedly humanistic side to them. As such they are going to require not just technical skills to solve, but skills in the social science and humanities. Solutions will also require input from fields outside of engineering. Establishing engineering as a liberal lays the foundation for the types of collaborations which will result in the solution to the grand challenges of engineering.

Hamilton, R. (2016, June), The Case for Engineering as a Liberal Art Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26105

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