Rose-Hulman’s HSS Curricular Changes

At Rose-Hulman, the humanities and social sciences department is committed to the ideals of the traditional liberal arts. However, we also recognize that we function within the context of engineering education. In order to preserve our understanding of our mission in a time of changing requirements, we are therefore taking a proactive approach to the new accreditation standards by engaging in a fundamental reexamination of our role within the total educational process. Although this is an ongoing task, it is already possible to report in some detail on what we have accomplished to this point, and on innovative new requirements we plan to propose to the entire Institute.

The first step in the process was to develop a mission statement for the department, based on which a rationale for the curriculum could be established. The mission statement reads: "The Department [HSS] seeks to encourage the emotional and intellectual growth of Rose-Hulman students, enabling them to become sophisticated thinkers, active citizens, and effective leaders and to lead rewarding lives." Eight goals for student outcomes were then established: growth, values, critical reasoning, communication skills, breadth of knowledge, systemic thinking, open-mindedness, and flexibility. Each goal was then given more specific form. For example, growth was interpreted as meaning "curiosity, creativity, an awareness of self, and a commitment to life-long learning and achievement." In addition, goals for the department as a whole were established: "Maintain faculty of high quality, continue program and curricular development, and support excellent teaching through professional development," and to "support and encourage service to the department, the Institute, appropriate professions, and the community."

Once the mission framework was approved by the HSS department, some rapid initial curricular modifications were undertaken. Since non-skills courses were no longer a barrier to counting courses for accreditation purposes, the "Literature and Writing" course was changed to "Freshman Composition" to reflect a greater emphasis on the development of writing skills in students. The same justification resulted in the elimination of the limited credit designation. In the midst of the approval process are also the elimination of the humanities and social science distinction in recognition of the increasingly integrated nature of knowledge, and the elimination of the non-Western requirement.

In place of these requirements the department is proposing a new curricular structure which reflects the emphases in the new ABET criteria and also maintains the minimum number of HSS courses required for graduation. Each student will be required to take "Freshman Composition." In addition to this course, each student will be required to take two courses from each of four categories: global studies, rhetoric and expression, self and society, values and contemporary issues. These categories reinforce the goals of the HSS department and those of ABET 2000. Special accommodations will be made in the requirements of students desiring to emphasize foreign languages in their studies. As a result of these changes, the department will need to consider distribution of existing courses into the new categories, the future of area minors, and the division of lower and upper level courses.

The most innovative aspect of the proposed curriculum is the establishment of a new "Sophomore Seminar." The seminar will be a new graduation requirement for all students. It will be given on one evening and the next full school day. The aim of the seminar will be to help students see that all knowledge is linked in an integrated web. This will be accomplished through small group discussion of a contemporary topic such as the global environment or the economy in the twenty-first century. All Institute faculty members will be invited to participate as discussion facilitators. A variety of disciplinary approaches to the same topic will thus be demonstrated and interaction between groups should result in a sharing and wider examination of these perspectives. Since we hope to make this an ongoing concern of students, all HSS courses during the following year, and other Institute courses as appropriate, will devote some attention to the seminar theme as well. In this way we hope to help students recognize not only that learning is cumulative, but also that their study of the humanities and social sciences has the potential to contribute to engineering and science solutions to contemporary problems.

We thus hope that our curricular revisions will have a fundamental effect on our students’ perceptions of the role of the humanities and social sciences in their professional lives. The proposed changes will perhaps also have some long-term effects on the curricular offerings in the department. Potential changes include changes of focus within existing courses, elimination and restructuring of existing courses as a result of the establishment of the new categories, addition of new courses emphasizing the aims of a particular category, changes in disciplinary hiring patterns, the involvement of engineering and science faculty in HSS courses, the integration of HSS material into technical courses, and the opportunity to have students apply their liberal learning in a direct way. However, as we engage in the curricular revision process we also need to be aware of some potential problems: the possible loss of the core of liberal learning, the absorption of too great a portion of the HSS curriculum into engineering courses, too many courses with a practical or skills focus, and the possibility of a decrease in the number of required courses. By taking a proactive approach we hope to demonstrate the centrality of the humanities and social sciences to engineering education as reflected in the ABET 2000 standards.

 

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