Humanities in STEM Majors

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Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby KestrelLowing » Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:44 pm UTC

I am a mechanical engineering student and I have made no secret of my general dislike for humanities courses, so understand if my post is biased!

As a mechanical engineer at my college, I am required to take 27 credits of humanities courses. I must graduate with 128 credits total. That is 21% of my classes that do not pertain to my major. Given an average of 15-16 credits a semester, that is more than 1.5 semesters. That equates to $12,000 in just tuition and fees!! And I'm in-state.

This just doesn't seem quite right. I'm waisting $12,000 on classes that do not pertain to my major. Humanities majors are not forced to spend $12,000 on science and math classes.

Should STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs include requirements for humanities classes? Conversely, should humanities programs include requirements for STEM classes?

I'm exceedingly biased on this subject, but I do want to see if anyone has a decent reason why. I will try to keep a very open mind!
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby podbaydoor » Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:59 pm UTC

Most humanities majors are required to take low-level math/science classes. It's usually on the Chemistry for Dummies level, but there you go.

Obviously the ideal balance is going to see-saw based on whichever professors are making the curriculums at the time. But honestly, this isn't a bad practice. I think the more well-rounded you are in multiple subjects, the more likely you are to make cognitive leaps that might not seem obvious at first. Also, this forces students who would otherwise exist in an isolated academic bubble with like-minded students to work together and (maybe) socialize with students who are coming from different worldviews and planes of existence. When I was a journalism major and working in three newsrooms at once, I knew it was a relief to go to a non-related class and discuss things with people who were neurotic about different things altogether.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby achan1058 » Wed Apr 06, 2011 10:37 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:Should STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs include requirements for humanities classes? Conversely, should humanities programs include requirements for STEM classes?
Yes and yes. Even if you are an engineer, scientist, or mathematician, you will still do things such as voting, reading newspapers, etc, and will be affected by the political parties that are governing your state/country. Also, a lot of things you read or see on TV will use literary devices and quotations. Furthermore, I believe that it is good to know some "soft sciences" (such as economics, psychology, etc. which are usually grouped under humanities) as they influence our world quite a bit, and that it is good to know why people do what they do. On the other hand, I also find that it is no excuse for one to say not know the scientific method, or to question its effectiveness in lieu of evidence. Science also affects this world a lot, given by the amount of technology we use nowadays.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Dopefish » Wed Apr 06, 2011 11:28 pm UTC

I'm pretty sure the study of ethics falls under the humanities umbrella, and that's one that strikes me as rather important. Many schools would have a specific course oriented towards ethics as applied to science too, which is important so people don't lose their humanity in their quest for knowledge, and potentially limit the liklihood of scientific superweapons being spawned.

Intro pysch in my experiance was basicly applied stats, and something like economics is also fairly number oriented, so I rather believe that someone who prefers working with numbers (i.e. someone in a STEM program) could get plenty of humanities credits, without needing to write a ton of essays or otherwise subjective methods of evaluation. (I'm assuming that the general reason STEM people tend to dislike arts/humanties material and vice versa is because one group likes objective questions, and the other prefers subjective ones, but there could be other reasons.)

Raising the overall levels of what is "general knowledge" is a good thing too. It's great to become super great at just one thing in particular, but you should get a diverse enough academic experiance to be able to look at things from other perspectives, rather than the often "what are the numbers and what do I need to calculate/what do they mean?" approach STEM subjects tend to enforce.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Apr 06, 2011 11:30 pm UTC

You're getting a Bachelor's Degree, not a vocational diploma. There are certain things every college graduate is expected to have encountered; and yes, humanities majors do have plenty of curricular requirements outside of the humanities.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby engr » Thu Apr 07, 2011 1:06 am UTC

27 credits sounds a lot. That could have been enough to get a minor (or even a major) in another engineering specialty.
I am also a MechE and my school requires some humanities/social sciences classes, but only 18 credits. We also have "depth" and "breadth" requirements, i.e. classes must be from at least 2 different departments and at least 2 classes must be from the same department.
Funny enough, one of these classes must be Intro to Ethics, which all engineers are required to take (probably so the school can say to ABET and such, "See, we are teaching our students VALUES!"); yet this class, if anything, tends to push people towards moral nihilism. Oh well.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby scarecrovv » Thu Apr 07, 2011 4:58 am UTC

Honestly, I'm kind of glad my school has a humanities requirement, because if it didn't I wouldn't be taking any humanities classes, and then I wouldn't have found out how cool political science/international relations is. No I don't want to do it for a career, I want to be an engineer, but it's fascinating stuff anyway, and I wouldn't want to have missed it. I feel I understand how the world works a lot better after taking a bunch of classes on how countries interact.

So generalizing my experience to everyone else (because everybody will feel exactly the same way when they're done!), yes, a smallish humanities requirement for us sciencey types is a good thing. Conversely, because science is so fucking vital to understanding things, a science requirement for non-sciency types is also a good thing.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby KestrelLowing » Thu Apr 07, 2011 12:54 pm UTC

Thing I just learned: These alternate requirements aren't typically required in many European programs. (Please correct me if I'm wrong - not too positive about the source) Geeze! Should have gone there!

But seriously, I understand some of the points. However, I'm still not convinced they belong in college. After all, we take economics and history and many other classes in high school. Why should we pay for them in college? I realize these classes are horrifically basic (trust me, someone in my econ class in high school could not understand the concept of a very, very simple supply and demand curve - and she passed!) but it seems that those classes should be sufficient.

I think part of the reason my school requires so many humanities credits is that it's a technological university and if the engineering/science majors weren't required to take so many, the humanities portion of the school would not have any money. We're also required to take PE classes!

But there's one thing I really disagree with - humanities being the only place where ethics is studied. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty certain that a class will not change someone's view on the world. Ethics is something you gain from living life. Also, the implication that STEM majors don't know anything about ethics is a little insulting, but I know that's being a bit sensitive. I sincerely doubt that we're going to stop a mad scientist from being a mad scientist by having them take a couple humanities classes in college.

Just to make it clear - I'm not advocating for all humanities to be abolished, simply the requirements for non-humanities majors. I enjoy quite a bit of the humanities - mainly the soft sciences, but I still find them interesting and fairly important.

But I also admit I do kind of want to see all the Gender Studies majors struggling through calc I :twisted:
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby doogly » Thu Apr 07, 2011 3:22 pm UTC

Oh, it's more than a little insulting. I think we do just fine with ethics.

There are two sources of disparity in the way distribs work:
1) Number of courses. At Dartmouth, we had to take 2 science, 1 tech, 1 math, which are on the STEM side, and 2 lit, 2 social, 1 phil/hist/rel, 1 art, 1 international. If you look at curricula as being "stem / not stem" then it is nearly 1:2, though if you look at the divisions as being natural science / social science / humanities then it might come out a bit more even. Still, if you imagine a major like Middle Eastern Studies, all the lit, social, phr, art and international distrib courses can be satisfied by classes that give major credit. Less so for English, but absolutely not possible for Physics. I remember the oddest thing being trying to scramble to satisfy my technology distribution requirement, because every physics class counted as SCI and not TAS. It was a little odd.
2) Level of courses. You can get a math distrib credit by taking a class at a level more basic than calculus. "Rocks for Jocks" exists. But the intro class that majors in econ take is generally the econ class you take if you just want a distrib. One summer I took an Ancient Egypt class and a Quantum Mechanics class. Some people were in Egypt for major credit; I just needed a SOC. No one who needs a SCI takes quantum. If the English department offered a literature course at the level equivalent to precalc, you would be writing essays on "Would I recommend this book to a friend?"
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Angua » Thu Apr 07, 2011 3:25 pm UTC

Transfer to the UK. Then most of your classes will relate to your degree, if not all.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Ivor Zozz » Thu Apr 07, 2011 3:43 pm UTC

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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby sikyon » Thu Apr 07, 2011 3:54 pm UTC

I don't mind taking humanities courses at all. It gives you a broader view on life and is important for a better understanding of not just how to create technology, but how to use it as well and what the impacts are. You can be a great technical person but you're not really going to become a great engineer without being rounded out to some degree.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby KestrelLowing » Thu Apr 07, 2011 3:55 pm UTC

doogly wrote:2) Level of courses. You can get a math distrib credit by taking a class at a level more basic than calculus. "Rocks for Jocks" exists. But the intro class that majors in econ take is generally the econ class you take if you just want a distrib. One summer I took an Ancient Egypt class and a Quantum Mechanics class. Some people were in Egypt for major credit; I just needed a SOC. No one who needs a SCI takes quantum. If the English department offered a literature course at the level equivalent to precalc, you would be writing essays on "Would I recommend this book to a friend?"


I think this is what bothers me most - the disparity between the two sides. Yes, I grew up in the 90's so I think everything should be fair and happy and sunshine!

That is an interesting thought though - the humanities equivalent to Rocks for Jocks.

And Angua, I've thought a few times I should have gone to the UK!
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby doogly » Thu Apr 07, 2011 3:59 pm UTC

Oh, I double majored in Physics and Classics modified with Religion. I have nothing but hearts for lots of classical education. It is obnoxious and imbalanced systems that bother me. Also, the notion that you can be "well rounded" but essentially mathematically illiterate.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby achan1058 » Thu Apr 07, 2011 4:00 pm UTC

doogly wrote:2) Level of courses. You can get a math distrib credit by taking a class at a level more basic than calculus. "Rocks for Jocks" exists. But the intro class that majors in econ take is generally the econ class you take if you just want a distrib. One summer I took an Ancient Egypt class and a Quantum Mechanics class. Some people were in Egypt for major credit; I just needed a SOC. No one who needs a SCI takes quantum. If the English department offered a literature course at the level equivalent to precalc, you would be writing essays on "Would I recommend this book to a friend?"
I don't know about you, but business majors still needs to take calc I and calc II in my university. Even though they are slightly watered down, it is still calc I and calc II. The non STEM majors will likely ended up taking this course as well, unless they are to take something like intro to Physics or Chemistry. (the pre-calc courses I believe cannot be used to satisfy requirements)
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Angua » Thu Apr 07, 2011 4:01 pm UTC

Yeah, I just found it amusing that most of the replies in this thread were about how great the system was, and how bad it would be if it were any other way. It depends on what is best for you - some people do best looking around and seeing what they want, while others know what they want to do, and are happy that not being good in a different type of class is going to impact on their degree. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, and I think the best route would be allowing people to choose if they want to do a mixed course or one where you stay with what you want to do (allowing to effectively choose if you're doing the classical US or UK system).
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Bakemaster » Thu Apr 07, 2011 4:03 pm UTC

doogly: Not having studied calculus means you're mathematically illiterate? It sounds like you're setting way too high a general standard for a particular field you favor.
KestrelLowing wrote:After all, we take economics and history and many other classes in high school. Why should we pay for them in college? I realize these classes are horrifically basic (trust me, someone in my econ class in high school could not understand the concept of a very, very simple supply and demand curve - and she passed!) but it seems that those classes should be sufficient.

How can you in one breath admit that the quality of secondary education in Humanities is "horrifically basic" and in the next call it sufficient? In any case, though some high school programs are more rigorous and comprehensive than others, the standards for completion of a secondary program lie far below the basic requirements for college admission. I don't recall my high school offering economics, logic, ethics or civics, nor am I aware of any state in which a high school diploma requires any of those courses. If you had the opportunity to study any of these subjects in high school and gain credit through the frameworks of AP or IB, then you can expect a college to believe you have some adequate preparation and excuse you from some of these requirements. Otherwise you can have no reasonable expectation of the same.

ASU in 1991 released a study titled "Engineering Education: Preparing for the Next Decade" that looked at desirable attributes for graduates of engineering programs from the perspectives of students, teachers, and industry representatives. Each group ranked ten desirable attributes from most to least important. As you might expect, problem solving ability was the most important attribute according to all three groups; after that, however, there was quite a bit of disagreement. Industry representatives placed communication skills as their second priority, with ethics and professionalism right after; students ranked these fourth and ninth, respectively. Students rounded our their top three with computer literacy and math/science proficiency, while industry professionals ranked those attributes ninth and fifth, respectively. Though the study is clearly somewhat dated with respect to computer technology, the disparities still paint a telling picture of the general trend.

Students tend to think that what's most important during college will continue to be most important in their careers but it's simply not true. The borderline non-functional eccentric genius so ubiquitously depicted in movies and TV is going to have a lot of trouble finding and holding on to employment in the real world. There are precious few opportunities for an engineering graduate to work in a position that asks nothing more of them than what was covered in their major preparation, and the degree to which the profession demands skills and knowledge gained in some way from studies outside of engineering is grossly underrepresented by most engineering curricula.

For many, this will be the last opportunity to study subjects outside of engineering and gain the skills necessary to direct their future practices; even those who continue to graduate school may find that they have neither curricular requirements nor the available time for studying subjects outside of a particular engineering focus.

There are engineering programs that don't require courses in statics or dynamics; if a student completes one of these programs and has the opportunity to take a job that requires those skills, they can train on the job in order to get up to speed. The same cannot be generally said for non-engineering subjects; though your coworkers and employers can be expected to have some of the necessary skills in these areas, they cannot be expected to have the level of expertise required to teach these skills (much less aptitude). If you haven't been formally introduced to these subjects by experts in a learning environment before you start having to deal with them in a professional environment, you may not have the ability to direct your practice of these skills in any particular manner. If you happen to get off on the wrong track, you can easily start practicing things the wrong way, teaching yourself bad habits and wrong behaviors because you have no guidance.
KestrelLowing wrote:But there's one thing I really disagree with - humanities being the only place where ethics is studied. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty certain that a class will not change someone's view on the world. Ethics is something you gain from living life. Also, the implication that STEM majors don't know anything about ethics is a little insulting, but I know that's being a bit sensitive. I sincerely doubt that we're going to stop a mad scientist from being a mad scientist by having them take a couple humanities classes in college.

I don't believe it was ever implied that STEM majors don't know anything about ethics. Or did you get the idea somehow that students in other majors are considered to already know it and thus not required to take the course?

That being said, I'm going to come straight out and suggest that you, personally, have a poor grasp of ethics based on what you said above (no offense intended, though I admit it sounds antagonistic). The point of an ethics class is not to change a student's views, any more than that is the point of any course in college. You don't go to college to be told what to think, you go to college to be taught how to reason. A rational, mature understanding of ethics is absolutely not something you gain from "living life" and if you think it is, you should really take that ethics course (or perhaps even retake it). Nor is the point of an ethics course stopping mad scientists or anything quite so dramatic.

EDIT: Right, on the stopping mad scientists bit (I kept trying to submit this and there kept being more replies!): A more realistic goal for an ethics course is to stop the well-intentioned person from making mistakes based on lack of exposure to concepts and inexperience with ethical reasoning, that might not be "destroy the world" bad but still negatively impact their field and those served by their field.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Angua » Thu Apr 07, 2011 4:09 pm UTC

I feel sorry for all those graduating with STEM degrees in the UK. You may get people encouraging you to take a course in a language, or maybe economics, but it's by no way required and we seem to do all right.

Also, the UK system doesn't give as much weight to how much you do in your composite courses, so we don't have to wory about GPAs, whereas the American system can force people to take subjects that they aren't very interested in/not good at, and so decrease their overall chances of reaching whatever grade they need for graduate school, scholarships, etc.


EDIT: also, the amount of education mandated by the government (ie until you turn 18 or whatever it is in your area) should be the 'basic amount required', not just going, well this is the basic amount if you're doing a college education. In the UK, that is maths, english (as defined by what you get in GCSE), and I think a general studies course that have civics in it. Further education should be just that - further in the subject that you want to study. Now, a lot of people may want to study a broader spectrum of things, which is not really covered for in the UK system, but not everyone is suited for that.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Ivor Zozz » Thu Apr 07, 2011 4:17 pm UTC

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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby podbaydoor » Thu Apr 07, 2011 4:52 pm UTC

What is that...I don't even...I'll just settle for saying that you are wronger than wrong and please get away from here. The adults are talking.

Bakemaster pretty much laid the smackdown on the subject. Who do you think you'll be working with when you go out into your professional life? You won't just be working with engineers/scientists. You'll have managers and CEOs and designers and marketers and clients and Public Relations and reporters and administrators and suppliers and accountants and investors and possibly politicians + their assorted staff. You need to know how to work with people who don't speak your particular brand of jargon. Know the common culture references, learn how to handle people who think on different planes from you, who have different goals. Better to learn these skills while in the university bubble on academic class assignments, rather than plunged in over your head in the industry on projects that will have an impact on your resume.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Bakemaster » Thu Apr 07, 2011 5:20 pm UTC

Angua wrote:Also, the UK system doesn't give as much weight to how much you do in your composite courses, so we don't have to wory about GPAs, whereas the American system can force people to take subjects that they aren't very interested in/not good at, and so decrease their overall chances of reaching whatever grade they need for graduate school, scholarships, etc.

Fortunately, many programs make a clear distinction between in-major GPA and overall GPA. Particularly departmental scholarships, whose requirements generally pertain specifically to in-major or departmental GPA. Plus, graduate school admissions committees as a rule look at the individual grades on the transcript, not just the overall GPA, and can tell the difference between someone who excels in their major and struggles outside of it, and someone who is mediocre across the board.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Dopefish » Thu Apr 07, 2011 7:09 pm UTC

Just to be clear, I wasn't implying earlier that if you don't take an ethics course as someone in STEM stuff you'll become a mad scientist and/or lack a reasonable moral code. I'd probably assume that most people would have a suitable moral compass to do fine whether they take an ethics course or not.

However, I would still think that being forced to actively give consideration to ethical issues in science (over the period of a course at least) is important, since not all situations are as clear cut as they might at first seem, and the purpose of such courses is to expose you to some things that could come up and sometimes show you sides to things that you might not have otherwise thought of. The 'real world' will certainly be the driving factor in how you view things, but similar could be said about almost all humanities, and (to a lesser extent) STEM courses (after all, frictionless vacuums consisting of point masses are pretty rare in real life :P ).

If you feel that taking an ethics course would be a waste of time for you compared to other humanities, then you're not forced to take it (unless your program requires it anyway, which some do), but it's certainly a humanities course that is relevent to STEM stuff. If you've already thought about all the issues in the course of your STEM related experiances, great, it's an easy credit, and if you haven't then it's a worthwhile potential eye-opener.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby KestrelLowing » Thu Apr 07, 2011 7:38 pm UTC

I'm really not trying to quote snip here, you just have a really long reply!

Bakemaster wrote:doogly: Not having studied calculus means you're mathematically illiterate? It sounds like you're setting way too high a general standard for a particular field you favor.


And yet what are you doing saying that everyone needs a certain level of humanities understanding? We all have different fields we favor. I personally value math and science much more than humanities so while I don't believe doogly was suggesting that everyone needed calc (although it would be a lot easier to explain things to the majority of people if they did) I do agree with the point that perhaps in a earning a university degree everyone should have come across the subjects of calculus, history, formal logic, etc.

Bakemaster wrote:
KestrelLowing wrote:After all, we take economics and history and many other classes in high school. Why should we pay for them in college? I realize these classes are horrifically basic (trust me, someone in my econ class in high school could not understand the concept of a very, very simple supply and demand curve - and she passed!) but it seems that those classes should be sufficient.

How can you in one breath admit that the quality of secondary education in Humanities is "horrifically basic" and in the next call it sufficient? In any case, though some high school programs are more rigorous and comprehensive than others, the standards for completion of a secondary program lie far below the basic requirements for college admission. I don't recall my high school offering economics, logic, ethics or civics, nor am I aware of any state in which a high school diploma requires any of those courses. If you had the opportunity to study any of these subjects in high school and gain credit through the frameworks of AP or IB, then you can expect a college to believe you have some adequate preparation and excuse you from some of these requirements. Otherwise you can have no reasonable expectation of the same.


Oops! I apologize - I forgot to put in the part where the classes in the high schools should be more advanced. :oops: With my rudimentary knowledge of the UK system, I think those should be things like A levels - basically required to get into university.

Bakemaster wrote:ASU in 1991 released a study titled "Engineering Education: Preparing for the Next Decade" that looked at desirable attributes for graduates of engineering programs from the perspectives of students, teachers, and industry representatives. Each group ranked ten desirable attributes from most to least important. As you might expect, problem solving ability was the most important attribute according to all three groups; after that, however, there was quite a bit of disagreement. Industry representatives placed communication skills as their second priority, with ethics and professionalism right after; students ranked these fourth and ninth, respectively. Students rounded our their top three with computer literacy and math/science proficiency, while industry professionals ranked those attributes ninth and fifth, respectively. Though the study is clearly somewhat dated with respect to computer technology, the disparities still paint a telling picture of the general trend.

Students tend to think that what's most important during college will continue to be most important in their careers but it's simply not true. The borderline non-functional eccentric genius so ubiquitously depicted in movies and TV is going to have a lot of trouble finding and holding on to employment in the real world. There are precious few opportunities for an engineering graduate to work in a position that asks nothing more of them than what was covered in their major preparation, and the degree to which the profession demands skills and knowledge gained in some way from studies outside of engineering is grossly underrepresented by most engineering curricula.


I want to ask you something: Are those skills really, truly taught in humanities courses? They haven't been in mine. While those soft skills are very, very, very important, I have yet to find a class that teaches them. Once again, it's an experience thing.

Also, I think this may be a problem of the corporate world as well. Professionalism ranks above technical expertise? I don't know about you, but if I'm in an airplane, I want it to be designed by someone with loads of technical expertise and I could care less if they appear to respect their bosses or dress professionally. Yes, professionalism is more than that and it's still important, but I certainly want the thing I'm counting on in a life or death situation to have been designed by someone who is technically proficient.

I'm currently co-oping at a aerospace company that makes the generators, motors, and back up generators for airplanes. Like you say, things other than technical expertise are valued higher. This has, however, created a very messed up corporate culture. The MBAs who are the managers have no clue what is going on with the actual work. Don't get me wrong, managing is a very, very difficult thing to do, but I do believe that if the MBAs had an engineering background and understood what was really going on, they wouldn't insist on such silly measures that don't mean anything.

By the way, I completely agree with communication being necessary. That's why I wish one of the required humanities classes I had to take was actually a technical writing course.

Bakemaster wrote: For many, this will be the last opportunity to study subjects outside of engineering and gain the skills necessary to direct their future practices; even those who continue to graduate school may find that they have neither curricular requirements nor the available time for studying subjects outside of a particular engineering focus.

There are engineering programs that don't require courses in statics or dynamics; if a student completes one of these programs and has the opportunity to take a job that requires those skills, they can train on the job in order to get up to speed. The same cannot be generally said for non-engineering subjects; though your coworkers and employers can be expected to have some of the necessary skills in these areas, they cannot be expected to have the level of expertise required to teach these skills (much less aptitude). If you haven't been formally introduced to these subjects by experts in a learning environment before you start having to deal with them in a professional environment, you may not have the ability to direct your practice of these skills in any particular manner. If you happen to get off on the wrong track, you can easily start practicing things the wrong way, teaching yourself bad habits and wrong behaviors because you have no guidance.


Frankly, I just really disagree with you here. Taking a dynamics course is significantly different from what one does in the real world with that knowledge. Just like other non-technical skills, learning how to actually apply that knowledge is pretty much on the job training. College cannot cover all of that as they do not know precisely the job you will have when you graduate.

I'm actually not sure what skills you're referring to. The only thing I can think of is communicating in a professional environment or learning how to deal with people. I really could be missing something. My brain is not on it's top game today.

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KestrelLowing wrote:But there's one thing I really disagree with - humanities being the only place where ethics is studied. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty certain that a class will not change someone's view on the world. Ethics is something you gain from living life. Also, the implication that STEM majors don't know anything about ethics is a little insulting, but I know that's being a bit sensitive. I sincerely doubt that we're going to stop a mad scientist from being a mad scientist by having them take a couple humanities classes in college.

I don't believe it was ever implied that STEM majors don't know anything about ethics. Or did you get the idea somehow that students in other majors are considered to already know it and thus not required to take the course?

That being said, I'm going to come straight out and suggest that you, personally, have a poor grasp of ethics based on what you said above (no offense intended, though I admit it sounds antagonistic). The point of an ethics class is not to change a student's views, any more than that is the point of any course in college. You don't go to college to be told what to think, you go to college to be taught how to reason. A rational, mature understanding of ethics is absolutely not something you gain from "living life" and if you think it is, you should really take that ethics course (or perhaps even retake it). Nor is the point of an ethics course stopping mad scientists or anything quite so dramatic.

EDIT: Right, on the stopping mad scientists bit (I kept trying to submit this and there kept being more replies!): A more realistic goal for an ethics course is to stop the well-intentioned person from making mistakes based on lack of exposure to concepts and inexperience with ethical reasoning, that might not be "destroy the world" bad but still negatively impact their field and those served by their field.


So, I'm going to make a confession to you: I failed my ethics exam in Intro to Engineering. 56%, the lowest grade I've gotten on any exam. So, maybe I don't have the best grasp on 'ethics' as is taught in school. :roll: However, I agree that an ethics course would be an acceptable humanities course for STEM majors to take. That brings it up to 6 credits - 3 for that technical writing class and 3 for ethics. Still no where near 27.

And yes, the mad scientist thing was perhaps a bit of a hyperbole. (See! I know what a hyperbole is! And even how to pronounce it! Yay humanities!! - Ok, really I'll stop, I swear!)

However, I seriously don't think I'm an unethical person or that I do not understand ethics in a professional context. No, we're not talking about eating babies here or even plain old lying and stealing. Ethics is difficult because often there are so many shades of gray in a situation. However, I'm not sure what kind of ethical reasoning you're talking about. If you could mention that, it would be very helpful.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby ++$_ » Thu Apr 07, 2011 8:43 pm UTC

I think that required humanities classes are a really terrible idea.

I know of two arguments in favor of them. One is Mr. Bakerstein's: communication, ethics, and professionalism are taught in humanities classes, and these are important attributes, so they should be required for everyone. A second is that humanities classes teach us how to appreciate art, or the human condition, or history, and so on, and therefore they should be required for everyone.

The first argument seems off the mark to me. First of all, I think it's a dubious claim that humanities classes help people learn communication, ethics, and professionalism. Second, if and when these things are taught in humanities classes, that doesn't necessarily mean that humanities classes are the best way to learn them.

At the risk of anecdotal reasoning, I certainly didn't learn those skills by taking humanities classes in college. In my humanities classes, there was basically zero emphasis on developing communication skills. No one would tell you how to communicate an idea better -- instead, you would write a paper, they'd grade it, and you would get your grade. This happened twice a quarter, roughly. By the end of the required 3-quarter sequence, we'd written 6 papers and learned nothing. During the 1 quarter non-required creative writing class I took for fun, we wrote more material than we did during the whole humanities sequence, and received much more feedback on our communication as well; however, the creative writing class did not satisfy any requirement and was perceived as a "fluff" class. If we want to teach written communication skills, the creative writing class seems a much better option, and a technical writing class seems even better (because that way, people are writing about things they already understand pretty well, so they can focus on their writing, which is what they are supposed to be studying, rather than learning new facts and a new way of thinking). I think a similar thing can be said for oral communication.

As for ethics, when I took my ethics course I was shocked by the total absence of ethical understanding among my fellow students (so it's definitely something that needs to be taught). However, I was shocked by this both at the beginning of the course and at the end of the course. It seems to have been largely ineffective, although I guess the students can't claim they "didn't know it was wrong" now, at least. Anyway, I agree that learning ethics is important, but ethics is not a part of most humanities classes -- just the ones that are specifically about ethics.

I don't really know what Mr. Bakerstein (or rather, the industry executives in the 1991 ASU study) mean by "professionalism." If it refers to being a polite, decent human being and not creating interpersonal drama, I agree that this is important, but I do not see how it has anything to do with humanities classes. If it refers to getting the job done properly (in the sense that one might say a firm that did a sloppy job was "unprofessional"), then I also agree this is important, and it is a weakness of many engineers' educations, but again I don't see how it has anything to do with humanities classes. Finally, if it refers to wearing a suit and tie of the right color and material and keeping your hair at the appropriate length and so on, then the executives can go fuck themselves (and while they're keeping busy, I'd like to point out that these are still not skills taught in humanities classes).

Overall, if the goal is to teach communication, ethics, and professionalism, humanities classes are the wrong way to do it. They might be an extremely effective way to teach those things to people who are already interested in the humanities, but it turns out that many people are NOT interested in the humanities. The humanities do not have a monopoly on communication, ethics, and professionalism.

I am more sympathetic to the second argument -- that the humanities are important and interesting on their own merits. However, to say that they should therefore be required reminds me of a parent stuffing broccoli down a kid's throat while bellowing, "HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU DON'T LIKE IT IF YOU DON'T TRY IT?" Sometimes that's appropriate, of course, but it feels a bit heavy-handed as a way to deal with college students. If there's a reason to require humanities classes at all, it would be this.



However, I think the REAL reason that so many humanities courses are required (compared to math and science courses) is that the humanities hold a traditional place as the main pillar of a liberal education, thanks largely to the fact that science was invented later than the humanities. This is maintained by the general innumeracy and scientific illiteracy that is pervasive even among university administrators, combined with the mistaken perception that only through the humanities do we obtain humanity and become more than calculating automata -- where humanities are supposed to instill a sense of wonderment at the universe, science and math destroy it.

In my opinion, it's time to re-evaluate this backward tradition.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby doogly » Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:11 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:I'm really not trying to quote snip here, you just have a really long reply!

Bakemaster wrote:doogly: Not having studied calculus means you're mathematically illiterate? It sounds like you're setting way too high a general standard for a particular field you favor.


And yet what are you doing saying that everyone needs a certain level of humanities understanding? We all have different fields we favor. I personally value math and science much more than humanities so while I don't believe doogly was suggesting that everyone needed calc (although it would be a lot easier to explain things to the majority of people if they did)


I think a rudimentary understanding of calculus is important for mathematical literacy. I don't think everyone should be able to integrate by parts. I think I would like to see people know what an integral is, and why people do them. Also, more probability.

And yeah, everything ++$_ said.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Bakemaster » Fri Apr 08, 2011 12:47 am UTC

My point is there's a huge difference between suggesting someone is illiterate and suggesting they could have a higher degree of literacy. If a person reads at a sixth-grade level, are they illiterate? Do you use context to make this determination—i.e., does it matter if the person is eight years old or twenty-eight years old? They demonstrate the same ability, the same degree of literacy, and either one can read and comprehend most of what they can be expected to encounter in the course of, say, shopping for food or navigating with the aid of a map. Several major newspapers are supposedly written at a sixth-grade level. I haven't met many sixth-graders who could even tell me what calculus was.
KestrelLowing wrote:And yet what are you doing saying that everyone needs a certain level of humanities understanding?

What I was saying, just to be perfectly clear, is that the awarding of a Bachelor's degree is contingent on a certain base level of formal study or demonstrated proficiency in several fields, one of which is the humanities. Another is mathematics, and I don't suspect you could find a single accredited college degree program in this country that doesn't have some requirement for study in both of those fields. My elaboration on that point was to demonstrate the reasoning behind these basic standards, not to suggest that everyone needs these skills (unless everyone needs to get a Bachelor's degree, in which case practically speaking, I guess they need those skills—or they need to pay the University of Phoenix to tell people they have those skills).
KestrelLowing wrote:I want to ask you something: Are those skills really, truly taught in humanities courses? They haven't been in mine. While those soft skills are very, very, very important, I have yet to find a class that teaches them. Once again, it's an experience thing.

You've identified something of a sticky wicket, here, which ++$_ addressed some in his post. There exists considerable debate over whether this sort of course is skills-based at all. What is the goal of a course in ethics, for example? Or sometimes the phrase "learning outcome" is preferred. Some teachers might say that the desired learning outcome for the student is simply familiarity with different schools of ethical thought, with the manner of constructing a system of ethics, or even just with the concept of conflicting schools of ethics to begin with. Others might argue that the student should come away from an ethics course with the knowledge of how to behave ethically in real-life situations. A course on ethical theory can provide a foundation for such knowledge, but really in this case you're no longer talking about teaching theory and it ends up being a very different class.

Communication skills, on the other hand, are definitely something students can learn in the classroom. It is problematic when a course that purports to develop communication skills is nothing but lecture and theory, but courses which involve a high degree of interaction and group work between students can do a lot to develop these particular skills. These tend to fall under the subject heading of speech (e.g. Public Speaking, required throughout the California State University system) when not explicitly identified as "communication skills".

Anyway, the debate over teaching skills vs. theory is a great big thing that exists in higher education. Generally, there seems to have been a move away from theory and toward skills in recent decades, as college degrees become more "standard" and accessibility becomes a higher priority; but you'd have to find someone older and more experienced than I to talk about that subject with authority. What I've observed is that the closer a program is to being purely skills-based, the more it's likely to be referred to as "technical" or "vocational" and the less likely it is to be an accredited degree program; but again, wild disclaimers all over that statement because this is not really an area in which I feel particularly knowledgeable.
KestrelLowing wrote:I don't know about you, but if I'm in an airplane, I want it to be designed by someone with loads of technical expertise and I could care less if they appear to respect their bosses or dress professionally. Yes, professionalism is more than that and it's still important, but I certainly want the thing I'm counting on in a life or death situation to have been designed by someone who is technically proficient.

Ah, but you're not going to be hired by someone who's flying in the airplane you design. You're going to be hired by someone who's selling the airplane you design. They tend to value a perfect product less than a functional product that's cheaper and easier to produce, so they'll quite often hire someone who has a professional attitude and the minimum required technical ability over someone who graduated summa cum laude from MIT but consistently shows up half an hour late and hung over. Of course, there are all different sorts of places to work and some employers do prefer the more technically proficient employee come hell or high water; there are just far, far more opportunities for the former sort of employee.

On the subject of ethics, I'm sorry to hear you had a poor experience. It's an admittedly difficult subject to grasp; I was the co-president of the college philosophy club when I took it and I still found it extremely challenging. The good news is that a person's grasp of the theory of ethics is not really a great indicator of whether they behave ethically or not. There are ethics courses which are more practical and spend much less time on the basic theory, opting instead to address scenarios and case studies in order to prepare students for situations where they will have to make a decision based on the ethics of a client-contractor relationship, for example.
++$_ wrote:I don't really know what Mr. Bakerstein (or rather, the industry executives in the 1991 ASU study) mean by "professionalism."

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate the original paper, and the book I have which cites it doesn't go into detail beyond identifying the category as representing, "High professional and ethical standards." It certainly doesn't strike me as something developed specifically by the study of humanities, but the point I took from the student rankings vs. the industry rankings was not that humanities specifically need to be studied. Rather, I interpret the difference of priorities as evidence of the fact that the skills and aptitudes developed in an engineering depth curriculum do not have nearly the same primacy in the professional world as in the academic world.
++$_ wrote:I am more sympathetic to the second argument -- that the humanities are important and interesting on their own merits. However, to say that they should therefore be required reminds me of a parent stuffing broccoli down a kid's throat while bellowing, "HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU DON'T LIKE IT IF YOU DON'T TRY IT?" Sometimes that's appropriate, of course, but it feels a bit heavy-handed as a way to deal with college students. If there's a reason to require humanities classes at all, it would be this.

I feel compelled to point out that college is a voluntary process undertaken by people seeking a degree, while being forced to eat broccoli as a child is not voluntary and offers no professional or academic reward. Also that broccoli is awesome.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Sun Apr 10, 2011 11:49 pm UTC

I'm studying Chemistry under the UK system, and very happy with it; I work a 45 hour week on average (20-30 hours contact time) and don't know how they'd fit anything of a non-chemical nature into the three years.

In direct reply to the OP: They have no place in your degree, so I really don't see why you should pay for them or waste time on assesed work for them*; I'm still wrangling with why I'm required to study Inorganic Chem to a high level, when I'm already on the fast track to being an Organo-Synthetic researcher, and won't need it (Maths, Phys Chem, Organic Chem and aspects of Bio-Chem will be required, inorg. is icing on the cake). Anyone who thinks that the UK system is quite tightly focused should look at the scheme in Eire (where one picks a specialisation of a subject and takes a degree in that alone.)

*unassessed, free, compulsory attendance modules in humanties would be borderline between something I'd accept and not.

I'm very much in favour of high levels of specialisation in training and qualifications, sure it's nice to have a rounded person, but surely people are only truely going to become rounded if they want to, so forcing them to waste precious time, money and crucially MOTIVATION TO STUDY on things which are of neither interest nor relevance seems pointless.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby KingofMadCows » Mon Apr 11, 2011 2:40 am UTC

Can't you take some of the classes at a community college and transfer the credits?
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby B.Good » Mon Apr 11, 2011 2:51 am UTC

So I learned that as a math major at my university, I need to take 6 humanities courses for a lower bound of 18 credits (3 courses which are labeled as humanities, 2 courses which are labeled "Social behavior" and one classes which are labeled as "Social history", which are generally humanities courses). In order to fulfill the general education requirements one need only take one math class and one science class, I find this inconsistent at best, especially if a university wishes to produce "well-rounded students" why not make the humanities students have to take more math and science classes? I know that lumping humanities classes together may seem like too broad a generalization, however, within the coursework for a humanities major, almost all of their 6 humanities courses are covered.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Apr 11, 2011 2:52 am UTC

KingofMadCows wrote:Can't you take some of the classes at a community college and transfer the credits?


Well, yes, but that still means taking the classes.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby KingofMadCows » Mon Apr 11, 2011 5:37 am UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:
KingofMadCows wrote:Can't you take some of the classes at a community college and transfer the credits?


Well, yes, but that still means taking the classes.


But it saves you a lot of money. Instead of paying $12,000 in tuitions, you'll only pay $3,000 to $4,000.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby ++$_ » Mon Apr 11, 2011 5:53 am UTC

When you're already enrolled at a university, you're not going to save money by taking classes at another university as well....
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Andromeda321 » Mon Apr 11, 2011 10:40 am UTC

Physics major here, and for the life of me I could never understand why my fellow majors and friends in engineering always had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the humanities courses. Do you honestly think there's nothing interesting outside of your major, that you're never going to have to write a sentence or that you might never be sent to another country with a different language and culture once you have a job? Because if you really do, boy do I have news for you...

I mean as a full confession I did do a history minor of 18 credit hours just because I quite enjoyed it and because those history classes kept me sane in giving me something else to think about instead of physics all the time. Plus hey, they were really easy and one easy class a semester is great! But then if it's not for you there is of course another option- go to a university that doesn't require 27 credits of other stuff.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby Kurushimi » Mon Apr 11, 2011 11:38 am UTC

And you're very lucky to have actually enjoyed those courses. Others don't.

First off, I really would like to hear the chances of being sent to another country. I'm not looking for some anecdotes, but how often I will really be forced against my will to travel to a country whose language I do not know by the company I work for. Also, I have written plenty of sentences, before, and will continue to do so with satisfying clarity, with or without another course in writing.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby KingofMadCows » Mon Apr 11, 2011 9:02 pm UTC

++$_ wrote:When you're already enrolled at a university, you're not going to save money by taking classes at another university as well....


That's why I didn't suggest enrolling in another university. I suggested taking classes in a community college and transferring the credits to the university.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby achan1058 » Mon Apr 11, 2011 9:13 pm UTC

If you don't want to enroll non-humanities courses, don't go to a university, and go to a technical institute of some sort instead that doesn't require this. University education does mean well rounded education.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby jmorgan3 » Mon Apr 11, 2011 10:19 pm UTC

achan1058 wrote:If you don't want to enroll non-humanities courses, don't go to a university, and go to a technical institute of some sort instead that doesn't require this. University education does mean well rounded education.

University education is also specialized education. For a constant time-to-graduate, there is a trade-off between specialized and general education. Most STEM people in this thread aren't saying that there should be no required non-major classes; they're saying that the correct balance lies somewhere closer to 'specialized' than the current US status quo. The UK system, for example, apparently leans much more toward specialized education, and that seems to work well.

To those who think universities make sure all graduates should be well-rounded, could you define "well-roundedness?" Does it include knowledge of computer programming? Calculus? Driving a stick-shift? Sports rules and trivia? Greek and Latin grammar? Finance? Music Theory? Typography? If not, why not? What mix of classes should an individual be required to pass in order to be considered well-rounded enough?

Personally, I would be fine with the current total humanities requirements, if they eliminated the required English courses and replaced them with writing and philosophy courses. I have never seen the reason for conflating literature and writing; English classes have too much let's-apply-this-scientifically-discredited-theory-to-a-mediocre-work-of-fiction-and-see-what-happens for my taste.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby doogly » Tue Apr 12, 2011 12:05 am UTC

Distrib requirements should prepare you to be a functioning citizen. Therefor, you should be required to take statistics. Again and again and again. Then more statistics. It can be tricky, you see, and instead of just having to deal with difficult situations in the real world, the real world of statistics is full of willful lies. Those take some care to unravel.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby achan1058 » Tue Apr 12, 2011 1:05 am UTC

jmorgan3 wrote:
achan1058 wrote:If you don't want to enroll non-humanities courses, don't go to a university, and go to a technical institute of some sort instead that doesn't require this. University education does mean well rounded education.

University education is also specialized education. For a constant time-to-graduate, there is a trade-off between specialized and general education. Most STEM people in this thread aren't saying that there should be no required non-major classes; they're saying that the correct balance lies somewhere closer to 'specialized' than the current US status quo. The UK system, for example, apparently leans much more toward specialized education, and that seems to work well.
There's a few that are saying that you should not have non-major courses at all, and it is to them that I am addressing.

jmorgan3 wrote:To those who think universities make sure all graduates should be well-rounded, could you define "well-roundedness?" Does it include knowledge of computer programming? Calculus? Driving a stick-shift? Sports rules and trivia? Greek and Latin grammar? Finance? Music Theory? Typography? If not, why not? What mix of classes should an individual be required to pass in order to be considered well-rounded enough?
Yes, in the sense that you should know at least some of them. Like for example, there are tens if not hundreds of humanities topics out there, you should have some broad ideas of a few. The exact subset of course depends on personal interests and circumstances, but knowing none of them at all is not well-rounded.
doogly wrote:Distrib requirements should prepare you to be a functioning citizen. Therefor, you should be required to take statistics. Again and again and again. Then more statistics. It can be tricky, you see, and instead of just having to deal with difficult situations in the real world, the real world of statistics is full of willful lies. Those take some care to unravel.
I don't know whether you are being sarcastic or being serious, but I do think a course in statistics, as well as logic and debate, should really be shoved down the throats of all university students as well.
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Re: Humanities in STEM Majors

Postby doogly » Tue Apr 12, 2011 1:20 am UTC

I suppose the 7th and 8th stats courses I am proposing are sarcastic. I am dead serious about the first 6 though.
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