June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Energy Conversion and Conservation
13.1218.1 - 13.1218.11
The Earth Sustainability Course Series Abstract
A four semester Earth Sustainability-themed general education curriculum was developed by Virginia Tech in response to urgent calls for a more seamless integration of liberal and technical education. It provides a basic framework for understanding worldviews, water, energy, food, shelter, waste, and health from interdisciplinary viewpoints. Incorporating a learning community pedagogy promotes deep and meaningful learning by inviting participants to become active participants in their own learning.
The focused curriculum of many engineering programs is not in and of itself adequate preparation for meeting the needs of employers or our planet’s growing population and limited resources. But by coupling technical education with an Earth Sustainability-type general education program, and with themes carried throughout the curriculum, we can better prepare engineers to address the complex and ever-changing global problems of the twenty-first century. Engineers have great influence over the utilization of resources, so we are obligated to equip them with the cross-cultural and interdisciplinary knowledge needed to make environmentally- responsible choices. Preliminary results and findings of the Earth Sustainability program to date are very encouraging with respect to gains in epistemological development and critical thinking. The program will expand next year to include 25-30 engineers among the cohort of 150 students allowing for more detailed impact assessment.
Undergraduate engineering programs are faced with critical challenges as they continue to adapt to address the needs of the global marketplace, and more importantly, the needs of a planet that has surpassed its carrying capacity1. Both ABET and the National Academies recognize the need for a new kind of engineer who has deep cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary competencies. In response to mounting economic pressures and competition from other countries, engineering programs have historically responded by becoming more specialized and more technical to produce students who could readily contribute to growing industries. However, this model of specialization is no longer entirely adequate for today’s complex problems that cut across the boundaries of academic departments, nations, and cultures. In addition to technical knowledge and skills, engineers today need two other fundamental competencies: (1) an ability to apply math and science tools at the intersection of global economics, culture, government, health, history, and the arts; and (2) a deep appreciation for the limits of our available resources, and the need for socially-responsible cradle-to-cradle2 designs that protect the health of people and the environment.
A recent report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities states, “those who endorse narrow learning are blind to the realities of the new global economy.”3 They outline a broad set of vital learning outcomes and argue that these must be woven throughout every curriculum rather than regarded as a separate, or less important, educational component. Domenico Grasso4 aptly describes the troubling bifurcation of liberal and technical education and calls for a new definition of the well-educated engineer:
Martin, C., & Bekken, B., & McGinnis, S. (2008, June), The Earth Sustainability Course Series Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3378
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