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Integrating Aspects of the Humanities and Social Sciences into Engineering Design: A Multi-Disciplinary, Team Taught, Project Class

Author: Richard Wener

"One of the problems in engineering education that has been discussed and debated at some length is the difficulty in adequately teaching and integrating topics such as literature, art, philosophy, sociology and psychology into the undergraduate curriculum. Within the invariably tight and heavily packed engineering curricula, there is rarely room for more than one course in areas of the humanities and social sciences per semester. After rhetoric and composition skills and basic introductory courses are provided, there is little if any time in a student’s four-year undergraduate experience to explore areas essential to culture and civilization at any length and leisure. “In-depth’ exposure to a topic may consist of no more than one course beyond the introductory level.


Time is not the only problem, however. Student attitude and motivation also plays a role. Classes in these areas may seem to the student to be part of a different world, one of words, images and analyses, rather than formulae, specifications and calculations. Sadly, students may not see these courses as important aspects of their education, but rather as requirements and as roadblocks to an engineering job that have been placed by faculty or an accrediting agency (“if had wanted to write *@#!! term papers, I wouldn’t have become an engineer!”). (Note Snow’s 2 cultures)


Amid the heavy course and homework loads of the demanding engineering schedule, the student may not only be losing out on a full educational experience, but also may be missing the forest (the scope, grandeur and beauty that can be engineering design) for the trees (of specific engineering analyses and calculations). They may be learning to function as engineers without understanding the historical and cultural context that makes engineering a valued, noble and creative profession."

Date Created: November 1999; Date Posted: April 2006






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