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Why A Liberal And Multidisciplinary Education Is Needed To Solve The Energy Crisis

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary and Liberal Education

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1399.1 - 13.1399.17



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Paper Authors


Matthew Heun Calvin College

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Matthew K. Heun received his Ph.D. in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering from the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was a staff engineer at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California and a Senior Engineer at Global Aerospace Corporation in
Altadena, California before joining the Engineering Department at Calvin College in Grand
Rapids, Michigan.

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Steven VanderLeest Calvin College

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Steven H. VanderLeest is a Professor of Engineering and currently the Engineering Department Chair at Calvin College. He has an M.S.E.E. from Michigan Technological University (1992) and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1995). He has been an officer in the Multidisciplinary Engineering and Liberal Education divisions of the ASEE. His research interests include responsible technology, embedded systems, and entrepreneurship.

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

Why a Liberal and Multidisciplinary Education is Needed to Solve the Energy Crisis


One of the grand challenges for the current generation is the need for widespread use of clean and renewable energy sources. Rapid growth in demand for energy is likely to exceed our global ability to supply it moving forward. In addition, our current energy sources often carry heavy environmental tolls. Thus our current energy trajectory is not sustainable. Research and development of alternative energy sources, including renewable sources, has made good progress, but more work needs to be done with more urgency. New technologies and significant improvements in existing technologies are needed to address the looming energy shortage. Many of these non-traditional sources of energy have different social impacts from their more customary counterparts. Engineers working in the area of energy production must understand the technical aspects of these new energy technologies, but that alone is not sufficient. They must have a deep intuition and understanding of how these technologies impact the social-cultural milieu within which they will be embedded. Thus, engineering educators must provide a broad, multidisciplinary education – one that spans not only multiple technical disciplines, but also includes a strong liberal arts component. Such broad social problems require broad solutions. Given the critical and timely nature of this topic, one would assume that it would be receiving significant attention within engineering education scholarship. But it has not. Although increasing recently, the total number of relevant papers on energy education in the literature is quite small, and almost none address the essential need for a broader, contextual education. An examination of available textbooks on energy issues demonstrates a similar gap. We conclude with several recommendations to take initial steps toward rectifying this lack of sufficient scholarship in engineering education and lack of resources for engineering educators.

Energy Sustainability is a Grand Challenge

Energy sustainability is one of the grand challenges for this generation. It is a global, multifaceted, and extremely difficult problem: (a) energy demand is outstripping supply, (b) primary energy sources are heavy polluters, and (c) there is no clear solution. In this paper, we will refer to this triplet of difficulties as the “energy grand challenge.”

Demand outstripping supply

Considering the significant problems facing our world today – AIDS, world hunger, war and terrorism, racial injustice, poverty, global warming – one issue, the looming energy crisis, seems particularly apt as a grand challenge for engineers. Consensus is growing to support the contention that our global demand for energy is outstripping our ability to supply it. Economics predicts that price will continue to increase to account for this supply shortfall. Significant economic and therefore social upheavals may likely result as some of our most prevalent sources of energy (oil and natural gas) dwindle to relative scarcity. Debate in the literature has transitioned from the question of whether a global peak (followed by a permanent downward trend) in oil and natural gas production will occur to the question of when the peak will occur. Hirsch, Bezdek, and Wendling summarize a variety of expert predictions regarding the peak and

Heun, M., & VanderLeest, S. (2008, June), Why A Liberal And Multidisciplinary Education Is Needed To Solve The Energy Crisis Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4250

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