Liberal Studies in Engineering (for All) - Seminar

Event Date: March 22, 2012
Speaker: Louis Bucciarelli, Professor Emeritus of Engineering and Technology Studies
Speaker Affiliation: MIT
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: G-124, Forney Hall
Contact Name: Dr. Demetra Evangelou
Contact Phone: 494-4158
Contact Email:

My purpose is to explore and provoke discussion of the possibilities for establishing an undergraduate program leading to a bachelor of arts degree with designation “liberal studies in engineering.”

The program would be intended for, but not limited to, students inclined toward pursuing an accredited engineering degree at the master’s level. It would not seek ABET accreditation, serving, for those so inclined, as a “pre-engineering” program. Yet students would be free, indeed encouraged, to consider a variety of career options - management, law, medicine, education, finance.

The core idea is this: Take exemplary, substantive content of the “traditional” undergraduate engineering program - the engineering sciences, the laboratory tests, the design projects - and subject this to study from the perspectives of the humanities, arts, and social sciences. The method is to build on the content and form of instruction in today’s engineering program but dramatically transform both content and form to achieve the goals of a liberal arts program - “critical thinking” is the key phrase in this regard - while preparing students inclined toward engineering with a solid basis in the fundamentals of the traditional engineering course of study. To do this, “fundamentals” must necessarily be redefined.

In this seminar, I first review prior proposals for “broadening” engineering education, then, curious as to why such calls for reform have persisted over the past century without comprehensive, substantial and long-lasting effect, I analyze faculty perspectives and ways of thinking about the engineer in practice, what one must learn to be one - ways which Vest suggests need to change - to see what’s holding us back. I then get down to specific proposals about subjects for study drawn from the engineering sciences, laboratories, and design studios. Drawing upon my own experience in attempting innovation of this kind, I will describe how this transformation might be accomplished.