The Well Rounded Engineer

I will say having being through the collegiate meat grinder I was always a little upset that I had to pay all this extra money for classes I though weren’t important for my major (film video studies, world dance, English classes, etc.). I did not have an appreciation for these classes at the time. I think Dan Edelstein’s piece really sums up the difference between humanities and the “hard” sciences. Engineers are taught a baseline knowledge initially where there is typically one answer or a minimum answer at least, while the humanities use more original thinking and have a bunch of creative answers. The originality is what gets you a good grade as opposed to engineering, where deviating from the norm is shunned. I think even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time taking humanities courses engaged the other side of my brain and made me a better critical thinker. Young engineers I will tell you a secret, once you get to design there is no one correct answer there are a ton. I am grateful for this different way of thinking and being able to come up with an array of answers to the problem at hand. As a final note now as I am approaching the end of my “formal education” I want to take more courses outside my major, like drawing and foreign language courses. I am glad we have the system setup the way it is and I will be a big proponent of taking as many courses outside your major as possible. I really do believe it makes you a well-rounded student.

I think the following from Dan Edelstein really sums up his piece nicely: “it is not that humanities disciplines are more innovative than their scientific counterparts: it is simply that students are required to practice innovative thinking earlier on in their studies. Though there is a great difference in outcome between, say, a close reading of Balzac’s Père Goriot and the development of a new software operating system, both rely on similar cognitive processes.”

8 thoughts on “The Well Rounded Engineer”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. As an engineer and engineering teacher, I feel our students are lacking in the creative, out-of-the-box thinking needed to be innovative.

  2. I also went through this way of thinking that you have outlined here. In undergrad, it was all just busy work, but looking back, there are valuable things I learned and carry with me from those courses. Even now I seek out language courses and the like to round myself out and increase my creativity.

  3. Love your use of words, “collegiate meat grinder.” I’ve never heard that but definitely relate to it. I like your recognition of how the design phase has a ton of answers. I can also appreciate having a baseline that contributes to the ability to come up with those answers. Another thought I had about taking the classes that don’t seem to match with your major, is that the contribution you give to the class rather than get. I know nothing about engineering, but have really valued all the contributions made by the engineers in this class and they way they see things through a different lens.

  4. “Young engineers I will tell you a secret, once you get to design there is no one correct answer there are a ton.” — yes! I agree completely. There may be many answers, but it takes a creative engineer to find the most cost effective, simplest, and most innovative solution and then to present that solution to a client; that’s where the critical thinking and humanities skills come in. The best engineers embrace the humanities, too!

  5. Hi Samuel,
    I agree that there is a lot to be said for the moment when it clicks for students in both STEM and humanities disciplines that there is value to be seen in the “other side.” I’m glad that you’re to a point in your education where you’re able to explore new topics to broaden your experiences and help you further develop your critical thinking skills. If you go into education after graduation, have you thought about how you will cultivate this kind of thinking in your classrooms? Thank you for the reflection this week.

  6. I completely agree with you when you say that creativity is shunned in engineering etc. because of the notion that there is a right approach or answer. I think we should learn from humanities and apply that to other disciplines. Having said that I think it depends a lot on instructors/teachers of how much efforts they want to put in to make the learning experience more indulging and creative for students. Great post !

  7. Hi Samul,
    I think it highly depends on how humanity or engineering are taught. Sometimes humanities courses are taught through pure lecturing and memorizing to solve MCQ question which makes it lack the originality. Also, humanities could be taught from a positivist perspective” as facts” which quite render critical thinking Same applied to engineering it could be taught in a way that foster creativity or impede it. If we emphasized the artistic side in engineering “ie. design” and was taught based on student-centered approach it will be a quite different experience but unfortunately, engineering as a field got dominated by certain mindes that looks at it as a mere application for basic science.

  8. I completely agree with you, Sam. Taking courses outside your comfort zone does make you a well-rounded person. Ph.D. studies are very streamlined and it needs to change.

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