Integrated liberal arts encouraged for engineering students at RIT

Grand Challenges encourage students to work to solve global problems




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Elizabeth Lamark/RIT Production Services

RIT engineering students will be encouraged to take more liberal arts to help tackle global problems.

In an effort to help enrich engineering students’ education, Rochester Institute of Technology is one of five colleges to split a nearly $400,000 grant over three years from the Teagle Foundation.

The grant will transform how liberal arts coursework and content—ranging from the social sciences to the humanities and performing arts—are delivered in undergraduate engineering curricula.

“After decades of increased demand for specialized, highly technical skillsets, employers—and society—are facing a problem. They’ve found many of today’s challenges cannot be solved by technology alone, and many professionals lack the broad skills to play a role in driving change,” wrote James Winebrake, dean of RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, in his grant proposal.

“There is a great need for more intentional integration of liberal arts disciplines into STEM curricula,” he said. “Nowhere is this need more relevant or important than at institutions of higher education designed as ‘institutes of technology,’ which graduate a large proportion of students from STEM disciplines. This grant allows us to develop new curricula that brings together engineering and the liberal arts in important ways.”

RIT will be partnering with other technical schools, including Harvey Mudd College, Olin College of Engineering, Lawrence Technological University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Teagle’s “Liberal Arts in the Professions” grant will help the colleges launch their own “Grand Challenges Scholars Program” which will encourage students to think about ways their work can change society.

“We’re asking students to tackle some of the most challenging global problems—problems such as reducing hunger, expanding renewable energy and ensuring clean water for a growing world population,” said Harvey Palmer, dean of RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. “We want our engineering students to be mindful of the social context in which they will work, to understand ethical problem solving, to be adept at communicating ideas and to exhibit problem solving and critical thinking skills that one exercises in liberal arts disciplines.”

“Yes, our country needs technically-talented graduates,” Winebrake said. “But we also need these graduates to think creatively, to be innovative and entrepreneurial, and to identify problems and communicate solutions effectively. These latter traits are those that a liberal arts education effectively delivers.”

About the Teagle Foundation

The Teagle Foundation works to support and strengthen liberal arts education, which we see as fundamental to meaningful work, effective citizenship, and a fulfilling life. Our aim is to serve as a catalyst for the improvement of teaching and learning in the arts and sciences while addressing issues of financial sustainability and accountability in higher education. It was established in 1944 by Walter C. Teagle (1878-1962), longtime president and later chairman of the board of Standard Oil Company, now Exxon Mobil Corporation.

201507/eng.jpg

Elizabeth Lamark/RIT Production Services

RIT engineering students will be encouraged to take more liberal arts to help tackle global problems.