RIT Announces New Degree in Mechanical Engineering and Public Policy

Program is the first of its kind in the nation

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The advance of technology as an influence over daily life is requiring new education and training that reflects this reality. A new program at Rochester Institute of Technology will seek to smooth the integration of technology in society through further incorporation of technological concepts into political and social decision-making.

RIT has received New York state approval to introduce innovative curriculum that unites mechanical engineering and public policy. The five-year program combines a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in science, technology and public policy, building on RIT’s nationally recognized expertise in both disciplines. The program becomes the first of its kind offered by an American university.

“With the growth of high technology in all levels of society, it is increasingly important that engineers have a firm understanding of the social and political implications of their actions,” notes Ed Hensel, head of the department of mechanical engineering at RIT. “This new program will seek to enhance engineering education by integrating this expertise into coursework and research in the areas of politics and government, environmental policy and economic decision making.”

“Technology has become a major driver, perhaps the most important driver, of social, political and economic change,” adds James Winebrake, chair of the department of science, technology and public policy. “It follows then that engineers and policymakers alike will increasingly shape the direction of those changes, and it is important that both disciplines understand how their future actions directly and indirectly affect technology development and government action.”

The new program allows engineering students to begin taking graduate level public policy courses in their fourth year with a complete transfer to policy coursework in their fifth/graduate year. Thesis projects are also required to incorporate both disciplines and enhance current RIT research activities in engineering and public policy. In addition, the program further expands interdisciplinary collaboration between RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering and the department of public policy in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, which has already led to the development of a joint engineering policy course for undergraduates. The new program begins admitting students next spring.

“The implications of high technology on our society is a complex problem and solutions will need to come from a variety of disciplines working together to affect change,” says Harvey Palmer, dean of the College of Engineering. “We are very excited about the prospects for this new program both as an educational tool and as a means to further expand interdisciplinary efforts to address complex, global societal issues.”

“Our next generation of engineers and policy makers will be required to have an understanding of the social, political and technology implications of their work,” notes Glenn Kist, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “RIT’s new degree will attempt to further the integration of engineering and public policy, creating engineers and policy makers who are better equipped to deal with this environment.”

For more information on the program, interested parties can contact Franz Foltz at (585) 475-5368 or fafgsh@rit.edu.