Humanities and STEM—two great areas of education that go great together. WPI has long championed the humanities and arts (HUA) as an integral part of WPI’s distinctive approach to undergraduate education. And the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) agrees: it’s a good idea.
The organization has selected WPI, along with 17 other schools across the U.S., for a Humanities Connections Grant. WPI will receive a $100,000 grant to establish an Urban Humanities Teaching Cluster to build upon the Institute’s strong foundation.
The award will allow WPI to offer an integrated set of courses that push students to think about urban challenges as more than simply technical problems. With half the world’s population now living in cities and with the population of 21 cities now exceeding 10 million, the study of cities is more important than ever.
“The engineering challenges wrought by rapid urbanization and aging urban infrastructures are obvious to our students,” explains Joseph Cullon, an assistant teaching professor of history and the grant’s principle investigator, “but solving them forces us to ask questions about history, aesthetics, equity, access, and cultural meaning that are less transparent but equally crucial.”
Beyond enriching WPI students with the opportunity to pursue an HUA concentration in the urban humanities, the NEH award also advances WPI faculty efforts to encourage and assist other schools in their efforts to develop similar integrative approaches that highlight the great value of humanities coursework in professional education.
WPI: Ahead of its time
Since the 1970s—long before this more recent push in the world of education to integrate humanities and STEM—every WPI undergraduate student has done the equivalent of a minor in the humanities along with STEM coursework. In this regard, WPI is ahead of other schools, which may be approaching this concept for the first time, says Kris Boudreau, HUA department head.
“Educators are realizing STEM-humanities integration is hard to do. Students may not be engaged with a general education requirement outside their area of study and may need help seeing connections between that requirement and their major. Faculty themselves may be too siloed to make the connection,” Boudreau says. At WPI, where some areas of the Great Problems Seminar integrate STEM and humanities, the HUA requirement is still in many ways a separate course of study for STEM majors. While there is much value in the HUA requirement as a separate project from the rest of the institute’s STEM curriculum, the NEH grant will enable HUA faculty to experiment with deeper integration.
By developing an explicitly linked set of courses and activities, Cullon expects that faculty will be better able to help students draw connections between all the pieces of the curriculum. Cullon emphasizes that, “The humanities will remain the humanities, and students will…