From May 26 to May 28, Macalester College will be hosting a workshop on Engineering Connections in the Liberal Arts College Environment, co-directed by Professors Dan Flath (Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics) and Diane P. Michelfelder (Philosophy). Participation in Engineering Connections is by invitation only. This workshop is made possible through a grant from the Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges.  Additional support has been provided by the National Science Foundation.

The aim of this workshop is to assemble faculty members from the (AALAC) and similar institutions to explore new curricular pathways to serve students interested in engineering as a life pursuit, and to expand knowledge of engineering among liberal arts college students in general.

The 3-2 pathway into engineering has long been a staple of liberal arts colleges. Its attractiveness has though diminished for several reasons, including financial aid issues and the strong tendency among liberal arts college students to identify with their entering class. Meanwhile, engineering scholars have emphasized that good engineering requires the integration of technical expertise with knowledge from the humanities, arts, and social sciences, especially to address multidisciplinary challenges such as those posed by the National Academy of Engineering. Emerging innovations such as driverless cars and the Internet of Things point to the increasingly engineered environment (read more here and here) into which all liberal arts college students graduate. These developments prompt this workshop’s primary questions:

  • How might alternatives to the 3-2 pathway into engineering be developed that would take full advantage of the whole liberal arts college environment and serve a wide array of student interests?
  • What advantages are there for students to engage with engineering in a liberal arts college environment?  How can we encourage students from a variety of disciplines to think about being engaged with engineering even if they aren’t planning on engineering as a career?
  • What kinds of courses and course components: (e.g. modules, team-taught courses between scientists and humanists, service-learning components) and curricular (e.g. minors, concentrations) structures work well to foster student understanding of engineering as more than just a technical way of thinking?   How could these courses and programs contribute to building community among students interested in pursuing careers in engineering and/or design? How can they help students develop an informed and critical understanding of engineering practices?
  • To what extent, if at all, should “pre-engineering” in the liberal arts environment be thought of as parallel to “pre-medical” and “pre-law”?
  • Given the diversity in student populations at many liberal arts colleges, how might attention to engineering in a liberal arts college inspire more women and members of other underrepresented groups to become involved with engineering?

Faculty participants, including 3-2 program advisers, will come from physics, engineering, mathematics, philosophy, and other disciplines. The aim of the workshop is to lead to (1) the establishment of a network to sustain the connections formed at the workshop and disseminate information related to the integration of liberal arts and engineering, and to (2) a collaborative proposal for curricular development and/or a curricular development concept paper to be submitted to appropriate funding sources.