“Sometimes new technological drivers may fail to deliver because they didn’t have the human element in the equation,” said Doug Epperson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) is proposing four new interdisciplinary minors to replace the science, technology and society (STS) minor at Cal Poly.
STS currently serves as an umbrella minor for the newly proposed minors: science and risk communication; ethics, public policy, science and technology; and gender, race, culture, science and technology. The STS committee also hopes to change the current media arts and technology minor to media arts, society and technology.
CLA Dean Doug Epperson sought to provide leadership to the STS committee upon his arrival to Cal Poly. When the committee began to research new curricular activities for students and new ways of student instruction, they collectively decided to develop an intersection for all students.
“The one thing that’s really unique about our CLA is that we’re located in a polytechnic university,” Epperson said. “We feel that our CLA should try and provide some leadership in developing that intersection between STS, so one reason was just really feeling a responsibility to facilitate this because of our place in a polytechnic university.”
Epperson indicated that an equally important reason for the proposal was to provide a ground to demonstrate the value of a liberal arts education.
“A lot of CLA majors are really training students into discipline and giving them highly transferrable skills that will enable them to be successful in whatever domain … but it’s one way to say that, and it’s another thing to demonstrate it,” he said. “We developed this area thinking that it was creating a place or location where lots of really exciting interdisciplinary work could occur with our students working alongside other students.”
But Epperson doesn’t want the new minors to only benefit liberal arts students.
“Sometimes new technological drivers may fail to deliver because they didn’t have the human element in the equation,” he said. “They didn’t consider things like cultural appropriateness, social acceptability, attitude formation, etc. and those kind of things need to be factored in from development all the way to implementation.”
Every student in the minor will have a hands-on interdisciplinary team project learning experience, Epperson said.
“That will really replicate what happens in the real world,” he said. “If you go out in a private sector, if you go to a technology company, they don’t only employ engineers; they oftentimes create interdisciplinary teams to solve problems that the company faces.”
Jane Lehr, co-director of the liberal arts and engineering program, interim chair of the women’s and gender studies department and member of the STS advisory committee, indicated that as of now, the STS minor has been successful.
“In terms of history at STS, we have tons of classes, faculty, students and staff already engaged in STS exploration,” Lehr said.
Lehr worked with Kathleen Murphy of the history department to change the minor of values, technology and society to STS in 2011.
“It made so much sense for there to be an active STS teaching program, undergraduate research program, at Cal Poly,” she said.
But Lehr and Murphy struggled with the broadness of the current STS minor.
“I’m really excited that students will now be able to do that in-depth exploration that they couldn’t exactly do before,” she said. “Because they’ll share the intro course and advanced project-based learning class, they’ll also have an opportunity to work with each other across those different areas.”
Most courses required to complete the minors already exist at Cal Poly. Currently, the introduction to STS and advanced project based learning are at the same approval process as the minor itself, she said.
The minors are currently in pending review by the College Curriculum Committee and the Academic Senate Committee. If they successfully pass through, they have the potential to appear in the 2015-2017 course catalog.
STS advisory committee member Richard Besel stressed the importance of a liberal arts perspective in reference to science issues.
“It’s not just the matter of having a background in science or engineering, it’s also realizing humanities and social sciences have a lot to contribute to those conversations,” he said. “These new minors aren’t getting rid of anything, they’re expanding to have a few more focused ways to engage students in these issues.”