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Why we need STEM

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March 28, 2016

8:59 PM

The core of a liberal arts education lies in its insistence that students reach out across disciplines in pursuit of becoming well-rounded individuals mindful of their civic duties. We, as liberal arts students, pride ourselves on our desire to step out into the communities surrounding us and make a meaningful difference.

“Make a difference.” This buzz-phrase is the driving force behind many young adults and millennials. For all the noted gripes about our narcissism, we, as a generation, are quite altruistic. We do not work toward a paycheck, but rather for a purpose. This appetite for purpose and meaning all while pursuing our passions empowers us as students at the College of William and Mary.

In the context of the modern world, a game-changing individual needs not only a passion for helping others, but also an understanding of the science and technology that is involved in possible innovations. However, there are engineers dedicated to what goes on behind-the-scenes, so why should more arts or business-oriented professionals work to understand the forces that be?

The College prepares its students for the world’s interdisciplinary needs inherently as a liberal arts university, but also purposefully with its COLL curriculum, which emphasizes knowledge in three domains: Culture, Society, and Individual (CSI); Natural Quantitative Reasoning (NQR); and Arts, Letters, and Values (ALV).

The answer lies in the fact that today’s world is an increasingly technological one. It is one wherein familiar partnerships between perhaps less-technical professionals and their engineer colleagues yield ingenious developments for the global community. Take, for example, Japan’s robot bear nurses or Norfolk’s police training upgrades that utilize virtual reality (VR). These engineering developments alone are impressive. However, by enhancing health care or streamlining professional training, they evolve beyond their defined technical functions. Take note that health care and police training have matured independent of technology.

As seen through these examples, however, there are leaps and bounds to be made when we recognize how we may utilize science and technology in our responses to everyday problems. Therefore, to push boundaries and make our mark, we, as problem-solvers, should work to understand both the intimate, human details of a problem and its possible technological solutions.

The College prepares its students for the world’s interdisciplinary needs inherently as a liberal arts university, but also purposefully with its COLL curriculum, which emphasizes knowledge in three domains: Culture, Society, and Individual (CSI); Natural Quantitative Reasoning (NQR); and Arts, Letters, and Values (ALV). These three knowledge domains highlight the importance of exploring outside of your comfort zone and acquiring insight from another field’s point of view that will strengthen your overall knowledge base.

Rather, students should have the ability to develop a skillset that allows them to experiment with interdisciplinary skills. This requires students to practice working in unfamiliar fields that challenge them to use alternate problem-solving skills that they may not have practiced in their primary major.

To be clear, I’mnot contending that every student should know everything from astronomy to English to South East Asian Studies to mechanical engineering. But students should have the ability to develop a skillset that allows them to experiment with interdisciplinary skills. This requires students to practice working in unfamiliar fields that challenge them to use alternate problem-solving skills that they may not have practiced in their primary major.

We are presented with the problem of what skillsets to require of students, if we should require a stringent base skillset at all. Is it important that an English major have a working understanding of calculus? If so, how high-level should that knowledge be? How many, and what types of, writing courses should an engineering student be required to take? As we move forward as students, and later, as working professionals, we must consider what combination of skills it takes to effectively pursue the passions with which we came to the College.

Email Thai Le at [email protected]

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  • Thai Le