A Vision for Humanities and Social Science Courses in Engineering Education

In concluding this presentation, I would like to offer just a few personal reflections on the role of the humanities and social sciences in engineering education as a way of summarizing the previous discussion.

I am proud of the central role the humanities and social sciences have in engineering education. I am particularly proud of the job my colleagues here at Rose-Hulman are doing. During the course of this symposium you have seen evidence of the outstanding caliber of my departmental colleagues. In order for us to do our job well we need the cooperation and support of our colleagues from other departments, both in terms of professional activities and in terms of the intellectual nurturing of students. In this regard, as well, we have been fortunate at Rose-Hulman. However, it seems to be the case that not all engineering faculty in the U.S. are convinced of the importance of the liberal education mission. Some have convinced themselves that the HSS component is not critical, that students should instead focus on their technical courses. Perhaps their own liberal education was too limited, perhaps they had a bad experience in some HSS course, perhaps someone convinced them they were lacking in the appropriate talents. Whatever the reason, such people might well see the change in accreditation standards as an opportunity to reduce the HSS content in the curriculum. I believe this would be potentially dangerous course on which to embark.

Today, more than ever, living in the United States or in Japan is a complex enterprise. Our students will be asked to make more and more decisions, both as professionals and in the personal lives. These decisions will sometimes entail far-ranging consequences. In order to be aware of these, engineers will need to be able to reflect on the societal and global forces which surround their decisions. They will need to recognize their own motivations, to analyze their decisions, and to find meaning and justification in their activities. They will need to take into account issues of justice, benefits, and rights. In short, they will have need of an educational background which only the humanities and social sciences can provide.

It is important to integrate these considerations into the overall education of engineering students and to offer HSS courses which students will see as being relevant to their career paths. Courses such as "The Engineer in Society," "The History of Technology," or "Engineering Ethics" have a valuable role in the curriculum. Equally important, however, are traditional humanities and social science courses which prepare students to live freer and fuller lives, whatever might happen in, and to, their careers. The strength of such courses lies in the fact that they can force students to think independently, to react critically to inherited wisdom, and to formulate their own solutions. These are qualities we ought to value not only in the general citizenry, but in our future engineers as well. I thank you for your kind attention and hope you have a fruitful remainder of this groundbreaking symposium between our two schools.


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