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The Sociotechnical Core Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies Degree Program

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Programmatic Integration of Liberal Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Jenn Stroud Rossmann Lafayette College

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Jenn Stroud Rossmann is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Lafayette College. She earned her BS in mechanical engineering and the PhD in applied physics from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining Lafayette, she was a faculty member at Harvey Mudd College. Her scholarly interests include the fluid dynamics of blood in vessels affected by atherosclerosis and aneurysm, the cultural history of technology, and the aerodynamics of sports projectiles.

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Kristen L. Sanford P.E. Lafayette College Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Kristen Sanford Bernhardt is chair of the Engineering Studies program and associate professor of Civil
and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College. Her expertise is in sustainable civil infrastructure
management and transportation systems. She teaches a variety of courses including sustainability of built
systems, transportation systems, transportation planning, civil infrastructure management, and Lafayette’s
introductory first year engineering course. Dr. Sanford Bernhardt serves on the American Society of Civil
Engineers’ Committees on Education and Faculty Development and the Transportation Research Board
Committee on Education and Training. She previously has served as vice-chair of the ASCE Infrastructure
Systems Committee, chair of the ASEE’s Civil Engineering Division, and a member of the Transportation
Research Board committees on Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Computing, Asset Management, and
Emerging Technology for Design and Construction. She received her Ph.D. and M.S. from Carnegie
Mellon University, and her B.S.E. from Duke University.

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Julia Nicodemus Lafayette College


Benjamin Cohen Lafayette College

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Benjamin R. Cohen is an associate professor at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. He earned his Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies, after earning bachelor degrees in Chemical Engineering and History, from Virginia Tech. He is the author of Pure Adulteration: Cheating on Nature in the Age of Manufactured Food (2020) and Notes from the Ground: Science, Soil & Society in the American Countryside (2009), and co-editor of Technoscience and Environmental Justice: Expert Cultures in a Grassroots Movement (2011). He also writes widely on the history of food, the environment, science, and technology, and the ways engineers contribute to those stories.

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The core curriculum of a unique degree program in Engineering Studies develops sociotechnical thinking and methods. In 1970, our College initiated this degree program, with the goal of producing graduates who could bridge the gap between engineering and the liberal arts; after 50 years, its mission is to help students recognize the increasingly complex challenges of engineering in the larger framework of socio-technical systems and develop the ability to analyze and understand these systems through multi-disciplinary perspectives. The core Engineering Studies curriculum is designed to help students gain expertise in examining the place of engineering and technology in society, with interdisciplinary skills to lead public technology debates around issues related to policy, management, economics, and the environment. When complemented by required coursework in both engineering and the traditional liberal arts, this core course sequence in Engineering Studies gives students an interdisciplinary mindset and identity as “sociotechnical engineers.”

In this paper, we will describe the development, evolution, and assessment of the core three-course sequence in Engineering Studies. Degree programs like our AB in Engineering Studies provide a mechanism for achieving the interdisciplinary, sociotechnical goals articulated by the NAE and others [eg Claussen et al, ASEE 2019], and for broadening participation in engineering education [e.g. Leydens et al, ASEE 2018; Faulkner, 2007]. As in our previous paper on the history of this program [ASEE 2018], we will consider both the transferability of our approach to other institutional contexts, and its sustainability in our own. While “bridge” remains an apt metaphor for our Engineering Studies program, we hope that it will not be the only such bridge at our College or elsewhere. The development of multiple fluencies and ability to synthesize the methods and mindsets of multiple disciplines are hallmarks of this integrated liberal education in engineering.

References: S. Claussen, J.Y. Tsai, A.M. Boll, J. Blacklock, and K. Johnson, Pain and gain: barriers and opportunities for integrating sociotechnical thinking into diverse engineering courses,” ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, 2019. W. Faulkner, “`Nuts and Bolts and People’ Gender-Troubled Engineering Identities,” Social Studies of Science, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 331–356, Jun. 2007 J. A. Leydens, K. Johnson, S. Claussen, J. Blacklock, B. M. Moskal, and O. Cordova, “Measuring Change over Time in Sociotechnical Thinking: A Survey/validation Model for Sociotechnical Habits of Mind,” ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, 2018. Paper authors, “An Integrative Education in Engineering and the Liberal Arts: An Institutional Case Study,” ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, 2019.

Rossmann, J. S., & Sanford, K. L., & Nicodemus, J., & Cohen, B. (2020, June), The Sociotechnical Core Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies Degree Program Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35373

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