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Post 5: “Inter” the New University Era

There is no question – we live in an intersectional, interconnected, interdisciplinary world; nothing is separate from anything else, everything is intertwined. This truism confronts our current approach to higher education, especially in engineering. My own experience in engineering was focused almost exclusively on learning theory and design practice. I learned how to design reinforced concrete structures, but not that I should consider the purpose of those structures. I learned how to design a water treatment plant, but not about the consequences of engineering decisions on the lives of the community the plant serves. I learned about groundwater resources, but not about how to reduce the impact of overpumping on local farmers and communities. As a civil engineer, my mission statement is to “design, build, and maintain the foundation for our modern society“. How can I do that effectively if my education fails to teach me about society’s needs? Without understanding the problems society faces in the past and present, how can I design anything to improve it in the future? Our engineering curricula must incorporate courses that will aid engineers in succeeding in the global marketplace of the future; to accomplish that, discussion of ethics, communication, history, and policy should support the engineering theory and design practices we already learn. Through collaboration with other departments, interdisciplinary classes should be offered and valued. Supplementing theory and design with a discussion of the “human element” of engineering is critical as we move forward and aim to fulfill our purpose as engineers. Our goal should be to design, build, maintain, and improve the foundation of our modern society, and that can only be accomplished with the inclusion of interdisciplinary topics into the existing curricula.

One Response so far.

  1. Very well put. As an interdisciplinary PhD student my work is multi-facetted reaching into several areas of research. Ultimately there are many more it reaches into that are not being addressed. It seems that in the university the tendency has been to narrow down the focus of research to a specialist perspective. In one way this is quite effective because it produces experts in finite areas. However, as you state, it is clear that nothing exists in isolation. I completely agree that universities should do more to promote and require a much more holistic view of any given research path.

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