Liberal Studies in Engineering - A Smoother Pathway into the Profession

Project No.
PI Name
louis bucciarelli

Abstract 1

Liberal Studies in Engineering - A Smoother Pathway into the Profession

Presentation Type
David E. Drew, Claremont Graduate University Louis L. Bucciarelli,, MIT


In past reports calling for the renovation of engineering education we find some claiming that the traditional engineering curriculum is too narrowly defined and inadequate to serve as preparation for professional practice. Many note that enrollments in engineering are declining and cite the need to broaden participation in the discipline. Todayメs curriculum provides little room for encouraging creativity or sensitivity to the social contexts of engineering innovation -- factors increasingly important in this age of rapid technological change and factors that are known to have a positive influence on non-traditional students when they consider engineering as a profession.

Engineering is different from all other professions in that they require completion of an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts before seeking professional training and certification. In contrast, the undergraduate curriculum in engineering is filled to the brim with science/engineering core requirements and restricted electives thought necessary to prepare students for practice. This severely constrains educational innovation which is one reason for looking to the other end of campus to establish a smoother pathway into engineering - a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies in Engineering (LSE). We believe that only a pre-professional, program which is rooted in the liberal arts can provide a smoother pathway into the profession for a wider spectrum of youth including more women and minorities.


Our project has three goals. 1. We want to map and report existing efforts to combine the liberal arts and engineering education, for example at Dartmouth and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. 2. We want to explore the feasibility of implementing such a program at other colleges and universities considering this innovation. 3. We want to assess the demand for graduates of such a program among potential employers and graduate school admissions officers.


We will conduct a feasibility study of possibilities for, and barriers to, the implementation of LSE programs. In this collaborative qualitative research project between the Claremont Graduate University and MIT, the authors and their staff will visit a series of colleges and universities and conduct interviews with faculty, administrators, and students. We want to learn not only what faculty and students hope to see in this new curriculum, but also their organizationメs readiness for change


Our report will outline the opportunities, constraints and barriers to implementing a transdisciplinary Liberal Studies in Engineering (LSE) program. Universities are difficult organizations to change. We hope to provide a blueprint for collaboration and positive organizational change.

Broader Impacts

In January 2015, we co-chaired a conference of educators at the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, DC to discuss our proposal. Participants came from a broad range of institutions � community colleges, liberal arts colleges and public and private research universities. We expect our feasibility study will be followed by institution-driven, Federally funded, initiatives to implement a form of LSE program at selected colleges and universities. These �early adopters� could catalyze dramatic changes across the country that would bring engineering education into the 21st Century.

Unexpected Challenges

We are at the beginning of this project.ᅠ The major challenge we shall address is institutional resistance to change that requires transcending departmental boundaries.


Bucciarelli, L.L., & Drew, D.E, モLiberal Studies in Engineering ヨ A Design Planヤ, Engineering Studies, on line at to appear in print, fall, 2015.

Bucciarelli, L.L., & Drew, D.E., モOn MOOCsヤ, The Bridge, NAE, vol. 45, no.3. On line at