June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
October 19, 2019
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
The National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) was created to better prepare students to tackle the immense and immensely complex challenges of the twenty-first century. The program does this by providing education and experiences in five competency areas: talent, multidisciplinary, viable business/entrepreneurship, multicultural, and social consciousness. These competencies align well with education and experiences often acquired under the umbrella of the liberal arts. This alignment, along with the rising tide of evidence that integration of liberal arts with STEM is beneficial for students’ education, led representatives from four colleges - Olin College of Engineering, Lawrence Technological University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute - to undertake a collaborative project, supported with funding from the Teagle Foundation, to explore GCSP as a vehicle for integrating liberal arts with STEM education (primarily engineering) and addressing the NAE’s five competencies. GCSP inherently engages students beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries and encourages students to see the limits of single-method approaches to technological problem solving. The program creates opportunities for engineering (and non-engineering) students from diverse fields to engage with the social and humanistic dimensions of the Grand Challenges. When additional emphasis is placed on deep integration of liberal arts with engineering disciplines, GCSP even more effectively roots students in paradigms, epistemologies, and methodologies that they would otherwise not encounter during an engineering undergraduate degree. As discussed in a 2018 National Academies’ report, developing conceptual frameworks “may enable [non-experts] to learn content more readily because they can then better understand the relevance of that information and its connections with otherwise seemingly disparate facts;” that is, the development of new conceptual frameworks, derived from a variety of disciplines, can help students better understand and synthesize a broader range of information. Gaining experience in these new ways of thinking and doing qualitatively changes the way in which students approach both learning and practice. New modes of thought and increased integration of learning and ideas also help students connect their interior, personal development with the “grand challenges” they study in GCSP, leading them to identify roles for themselves in tackling these complex problems; this identification lends itself to agency development and increased motivation. Thus we suggest that participation in a “liberal arts-infused GCSP” transforms a student’s learning experience through not only acquisition of new information but also new ways of thinking, knowing, doing, and being.
As this approach to GCSP provides transformational experiences for students, the creation of these programs has also led to transformations at the levels of the participating institutions. With implementation of GCSP now in different stages at our four schools, all are finding evidence of transformations occurring at the student, institute, and community level. We illustrate these transformations in this paper and suggest that they were driven by development of liberal arts-infused GCSPs.
Wood , A., & Arslan, S., & Barrett, J., & Brownell, S. A., & Herbert, A. M., & Marshall, M., & Oates, K. K., & Spanagel, D., & Winebrake, J. J., & Zastavker, Y. V. (2019, June), Work in Progress: Transformation through Liberal Arts-Focused Grand Challenges Scholars Programs Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33657
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