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When Engineering Meets Self and Society: Students Reflect on the Integration of Engineering and Liberal Education

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

The Interdisciplinary Nature of Engineering

Tagged Divisions

Multidisciplinary Engineering and Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1374.1 - 24.1374.17



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Paper Authors


Xiaofeng Tang Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Orcid 16x16

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Xiaofeng Tang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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When Engineering Meets Self and Society: Students Reflect on the Integration of Engineering and Liberal EducationMany reform-minded educators have recommended the integration of engineering and the liberalarts as a promising model for educating well-rounded and socially-aware engineers. This paperfocuses upon students who study engineering in a liberal education environment. Throughexploring students' reflections on their educational experiences, this paper intends to introducestudents' perspectives into the discussion of integrating engineering and liberal education.This work results from interviews with over thirty students and nine months of participantobservation in three educational programs that are committed to integrating engineering and theliberal arts: Harvey Mudd College is a liberal arts college for scientists, engineers, andmathematicians. Over the past six decades, the engineering program at Harvey Mudd strives toeducate engineering leaders “with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.”Picker Engineering Program, the only ABET accredited engineering program in a women'sliberal arts college, extends Smith College's social agenda by promoting women engineers with astrong commitment to social responsibility and sustainability. The interdisciplinary designprogram at [the author's home institution], through project-based studio learning and co-teachingby faculty from engineering, social sciences, and the arts, helps students synthesize engineeringknowledge with the social, environmental, and aesthetic dimensions of design.After briefly introducing the signature pedagogies utilized in each of the three programs, thispaper inquires into students' own reflections on their experiences integrating engineeringlearning with liberal studies. It asks the following questions: 1. How do students think about thenature of engineering knowledge, and how do they understand the relation between technical andnon-technical courses? 2. In what ways do students find their college education contributing totheir personal growth and career development? 3. In what terms do they engage social contextinto their understanding of engineering?Based on student reflections, this paper concludes with a discussion of the accomplishments andlimitations of existing efforts to integrate engineering and liberal education. In particular, itexamines the impacts of the integrative learning on students' recognition of the broad context ofengineering and their ability to engage in life-long learning.

Tang, X. (2014, June), When Engineering Meets Self and Society: Students Reflect on the Integration of Engineering and Liberal Education Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23307

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