Over the last two decades, those who philosophize about the role of engineering and engineers in society have promoted a vision of engineers that goes well beyond the traditional typecasting as technical problem solvers and designers. For example, the National Academy of Engineering envisions engineers who “will remain well grounded in the basics of mathematics and science, and who will expand their vision of design through a solid grounding in the humanities, social sciences, and economics” and who will “rapidly embrace the potentialities offered by creativity, invention, and cross-disciplinary fertilization to create and accommodate new fields of endeavor, including those that require openness to interdisciplinary efforts with nonengineering disciplines such as science, social science, and business” (NAE 2004). The American Society of Civil Engineers suggests that “civil engineers will serve as master builders, environmental stewards, innovators and integrators, managers of risk and uncertainty, and leaders in shaping public policy” (ASCE 2007). These visions recognize that the challenges facing society today are inherently socio-technical and require collaborative, interdisciplinary solutions – solutions that can be driven by professionals who have solid grounding in engineering and the liberal arts.
We will describe the nearly 50 year history of a unique degree program in Engineering Studies. The program was created at our College in 1970 with the goal of producing graduates who could bridge the gap between engineering and the liberal arts; its current mission is to engage students in engineering as a liberal art, recognizing the increasingly complex challenges of engineering in the larger framework of socio-technical systems and examining these systems through multi-disciplinary perspectives. The program helps students gain expertise in examining the place of engineering and technology in society, with interdisciplinary skills to lead public technology debates around issues related to policy, management, economics, and the environment.
In this paper, we will describe the evolution of the program’s mission and curriculum, in the context of higher education trends as well as societal and historical movements; the various challenges faced by the program; and the assessment and evaluation of the program’s success, opportunities, and impact. Our program may provide a useful case study in achieving the interdisciplinary, sociotechnical goals articulated by the NAE and others, and in broadening participation in engineering education. We will consider both the transferability of our approach to other institutional contexts, and its sustainability in our own.
American Society of Civil Engineers. (2007). The Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025. American Society of Civil Engineers: Reston, VA.
National Academy of Engineering (2004). The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century. The National Academies Press: Washington, D.C.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.