Asee peer logo

Thoughts And Reflections On Rensselaer’s Product Design And Innovation Program

Download Paper |


2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Capstone Design I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1491.1 - 12.1491.8



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Mark Steiner Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

author page

Langdon Winner Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Download Paper |

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


ABSTRACT The experience of students in Rensselaer’s Product Design and Innovation (PDI) program offers a glimpse into how to integrate the humanities and social sciences (H&SS) into an engineering curriculum. PDI offers a dual degree program built around a studio design class each semester, integrated into a core-engineering curriculum leading to bachelor degrees in both mechanical engineering and H&SS. The program is administered through our Science and Technology Studies (STS) Department in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The studio design courses introduce students to a broad range of open-ended design experiences, where they learn how to combine cultural, aesthetic, and technical skills and knowledge with the insight and context of social concerns and issues. As students move through the PDI program, they ultimately have culminating experiences with Rensselaer’s Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory (MDL), which serve as senior capstone design studios. We have found that compared to typical engineering seniors, PDI students clearly distinguish themselves. They are comfortable and competent with multidisciplinary thinking and at odds with the conventional mindset that tends to focus on disciplinary specialization. They represent the kinds of students that organizations in industry, government and society are asking for; educated as resourceful problem solvers and first rate technical professionals. This paper offers thoughts and reflections on the PDI program, starting with its original vision and goals, a report on its current status and progress, and finally some perspectives on the future directions and promise of the program. Keywords: multidisciplinary, design, education, innovation 1. Introduction, Motivation, Background The engineering profession is often called upon to solve complex problems that meet society’s needs. Seldom, however, are engineers directly engaged in framing the issues that ultimately guide their work. A visionary study by the National Academy of Engineering1 describes the need for more broadly educated engineers, suggesting that the engineering profession seek better ways to anticipate social needs and to envision creative solutions. This presents a serious challenge to engineering education. The Product Design and Innovation (PDI) program at Rensselaer attempts to bridge the long lamented gap between science and technology on the one hand, and the humanities, arts and social sciences on the other. Several years of PDI teaching and learning provides evidence that we can develop young people who gracefully combine varieties of theory and practice from widely disparate fields2. Many first year engineering students are undecided about which field of engineering appeals to them and are unsure about what engineers do. Many have interests that go far beyond engineering and are eager to explore a wide range of options. PDI offers an attractive alternative. Students who choose PDI often have strong backgrounds in art, humanities and design along with strong preparation in math and science. PDI gives students of this kind a flexible engineering program that is responsive to societal needs and satisfies a broad range of intellectual, practical and career interests3.

Steiner, M., & Winner, L. (2007, June), Thoughts And Reflections On Rensselaer’s Product Design And Innovation Program Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1558

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2007 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015