The Arts, Sciences, and Concrete Outcomes


Emerging societal needs in energy and the environment have informed our plans to teach science and engineering at Boston University in a way that connects meaning and perspectives from the humanities and social policy to technical knowledge. Problem solving and issues of numeracy, which are so critical to these disciplines, must be taught from the perspective of societal and cultural impact. New ideas of service learning, in which students actively learn as they address important problems in local and international communities in need, are being demanded by our best entering students and will be critical to the recruitment, retention, and timely graduation of our students in the future.

Accommodating these demands in a way that preserves the learning of classical knowledge in science and engineering is a serious challenge. Retaining the “learning” in service learning needs much more attention, as we attempt to connect our curricula with community and current needs of the day. If we succeed, students can benefit from concrete and authentic evidences of learning that are replete with immediate impact. In short, we look to the promise of a fruitful intersection between science and the humanities.(7) As President Carol Christ of Smith College has noted recently,

Indeed, engineering must become part of a liberal education in the 21st century. We must determine not only how best to educate engineers in the traditional liberal arts but also what role engineering might play in the education of musicians, economists, political scientists, and philosophers. Just as the study of literature and art enriches and deepens the education of scientists and engineers, so the study of science and engineering should enrich and deepen the education of historians and poets.(8)

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7. See, for example, a Chronicle of Higher Education article on Princeton’s efforts in this direction.

8. “Engineering and the Liberal Arts: Strangers No Longer.”