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Toward a Cross-cultural Conversation: Liberal Arts Education for Engineers in China and the U.S.

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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

Assessing Literacies in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Xiaofeng Tang Pennsylvania State University, University Park Orcid 16x16

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Xiaofeng Tang is a postdoctoral fellow in engineering ethics at Penn State University. He received his Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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Qin Zhu Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Qin Zhu is a PhD Candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. His main research interests include global, comparative, and international engineering education, engineering education policy, and engineering ethics. He received his BS degree in materials science and engineering and first PhD degree in the philosophy of science and technology (engineering ethics) both from Dalian University of Technology, China.

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Haishao Pang Beijing Institute of Technology

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PANG Haishao, Professor of the Graduate School of Educational at Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT,which is one of the national key universities in China--an open, comprehensive, research-oriented university).

Professor Pang earned the B.S degree (1985) and the M.S degree (1988) from BIT, majored in engineering of aerospace. She got the Ph.D degree (2008) from the School of Education, Peking University.
PANG Haishao has worked in the field of education for more than 30 years. As a manager, teacher and researcher, she has served many departments, including Office of BIT President, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Law, etc. In 2011, she built the Center for Faculty Development (CFD) of BIT, which has been named as the National Demonstrational Center by the Ministry of Education of China. Now, professor Pang is the head of Graduate School of Educational and the director of CFD at BIT.
Her teaching, research, and writing focused on general education and suzhi education, faculty development, and higher education management. She has published 8 books, more than 50 papers, and undertook around 15 research projects. Her monograph “General Education: the Dilemma and Prospect” (2009) has aroused much affection in this circle. In recent years, she delivered enormous lectures and speeches named “general education and the reforming of higher learning” “faculty development: ideas and practicing” “etiquette culture and effective communication” at a lot of universities, conferences and seminars.
Professor Pang is the Secretary-General of Chinese Association for Liberal Education, the Rotating chairman of Chinese Higher Education Development in Greater China, the Executive Member of China Association of Higher Education, and the Editorial Board Member of 3 Education Journals in China Mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. She also is the member of Suzhi Education committee of BIT and the deputy director of General Education Curriculum Expert Committee of BIT.

Telephone: +86-1352-034-1310 +8610-68918803

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A number of leading engineering organizations and educators in the United Sates have stressed the value of the liberal arts in educating innovative and socially responsible engineers. In addition, they argue that studies in the liberal arts would cultivate engineers’ sensitivities to different cultures and prepare them for a globalized economy. However, little research has examined the various ways in which engineers are educated in the liberal arts across cultural contexts. In this paper, we attempt to ignite a cross-cultural conversation by comparing the aims, strategies, and challenges of liberal arts education for engineers in China and the U.S.

Section one introduces recent educational reforms in China and the U.S. that seek to expand engineers’ learning in the liberal arts. Drawing on the educational literature in Chinese and English, we compare the respective purposes of liberal arts education for engineers envisioned by Chinese and American educators.

Section two examines some institutional, curricular, and instructional strategies through which liberal arts education for engineers is implemented in China and the U.S. We briefly discuss the programs of general education in two Chinese engineering universities and compare them with two American engineering programs located in liberal arts colleges.

Section three reflects upon the challenges faced by educators in China and the U.S. who seek to bring together engineering and the liberal arts. These challenges, in our analysis, reflect a more common instrumental attitude that dominates educational initiatives to enhance professional’s non-technical skills. Arguing that this instrumental view advances a narrowed understanding of the liberal arts, we suggest a broader approach, one that fully appreciates the critical and emancipatory spirits in the liberal arts. In the meantime, we note that the challenges to liberal arts education for engineers in the two nations illustrate the impacts of distinct governance structures and professional cultures. As we will demonstrate, educational reformers in each context have drawn from different intellectual resources and developed local strategies to meet these challenges. Therefore, we conclude that a global community of liberal educators for engineers, where participants share diverse intellectual traditions, educational visions and strategies, would inspire more productive answers to these challenges.

Tang, X., & Zhu, Q., & Pang, H. (2016, June), Toward a Cross-cultural Conversation: Liberal Arts Education for Engineers in China and the U.S. Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27055

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