Engineering and the Human Spirit
Melding the Two Cultures
Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson once asserted that "the greatest
enterprise of the mind has always been and always will be the
attempted linkage of the sciences and the humanities." At
Smith, this challenge has become the organizing principle for our
engineering program. We make it clear to our students that
engineering is the application of science to enrich the human
condition. Indeed, a sense of social relevance and social
responsibility pervades the entire engineering curriculum.
But how can we teach these students everything they need to know in
just four years? By handing out a lot of homework? Probably not.
Instead, the faculty tries to help students hone their critical
thinking using techniques usually associated with study in the
liberal arts and through structured problem solving, which is
typically associated with an engineering education. In this way, we
provide students with the tools and the desire to be continuous
learners. Thus, long after their detailed recollections of the
Navier-Stokes equation and the Pieta have faded, Smith engineering
graduates will still retain an ability to think critically and to
learn more about a subject on their own.
How do we teach them those skills? The Smith faculty does not apply
one particular method, recognizing that there are a variety of modes
of reasoning and styles of presentation that prove to be effective.
We feel that the more exposure students have to various ways of
thinking, the better equipped they will be to succeed.
So, rather than forcing them to pick one specialty from a
smorgasbord of engineering degree programs, we offer a single
degree, a B.S. in Engineering Science, which focuses on the
fundamentals of all the engineering disciplines. With rigorous study
in the three basic areas—mechanics, electrical systems and
thermochemical processes—students learn to apply first
principles to structure engineering solutions to a variety of
problems. Complementing this technical rigor, our faculty expects
that the students' work will be informed by the diversity of thought
that they have acquired from their classes in the humanities and
social sciences. In short, the engineering program at Smith is
designed to diversify the ranks of America's engineering
professionals (and of those who sit at the highest levels of
government and corporate America) in intellect as well as gender.