Boston College will begin recruiting the first class for its highly anticipated Human-Centered Engineering program, a major that will integrate BC’s core liberal arts focus and a rigorous engineering curriculum to prepare students to find solutions that address critical human needs.
Launching in the fall of 2021 and guided by the fundamentals of engineering education, the Human-Centered Engineering program will emphasize experiential learning and application-based course offerings, giving students opportunities to work in collaborative teams and across disciplines to address critical issues in the areas of the environment, health, and energy.
Aligned closely with the University’s new Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, the program will create new avenues for faculty and student research in the applied sciences and respond to the high level of interest in engineering among prospective applicants considering majors in STEM fields.
Graduates will be well positioned to solve complex problems with scientific, technological, human, and societal dimensions that confront the world. The program will integrate the liberal arts focus of BC’s core curriculum with foundations of engineering, design and systems thinking applications, and service-focused capstone experiences.
““Drawing upon our liberal arts offerings and our professional schools will allow us to offer a broad-based, interdisciplinary program of human-centered engineering, which many traditional engineering programs have struggled to develop.””
“Boston College’s enduring strength is rooted in the University’s ability, developed over many generations, to uphold core elements of our tradition while identifying and investing in emerging contemporary opportunities,” said Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley. “This commitment to engaging the spirit of the age helps fuel our investments in the Schiller Institute and its academic programs. The launch of an undergraduate engineering degree promises to position Boston College and our graduates to help lead the way on ethical, human-centered explorations of the possibilities and perils of technology in the 21st century.”
Anchored by a human-centered, inclusive approach and design-thinking methodologies, engineering study at Boston College will be bolstered by a global viewpoint, ethical underpinnings, and distinctive capstone projects that address real-world challenges.
“We find ourselves in a unique position based on the complex problems the planet now faces and a seismic shift that is taking place in undergraduate engineering study,” said Vice Provost for Research Tom Chiles, who has led the planning efforts. “Introducing the Human-Centered Engineering program builds upon our mission to educate students and improve the lives of others. Drawing upon our liberal arts offerings and our professional schools will allow us to offer a broad-based, interdisciplinary program of human-centered engineering, which many traditional engineering programs have struggled to develop.”
Approved by the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Education Policy Committee, the new major is marked by several distinctive characteristics, including:
- Human-centered design: Guided by a significant human-centered design focus, students will learn to work with stakeholder groups, using design-thinking strategies to develop user-oriented engineering solutions. Students will develop an understanding of the intersection of technology and society, as well as an appreciation for technology’s positive and negative impacts on the world.
- Engineering core: Students will be exposed to a set of engineering subjects through the Engineering Fundamentals Studio course, providing a shared knowledge base during sophomore year that can support later specialization.
- Concentration areas: Students in the program will be required to build depth in a particular field of engineering by taking three advanced courses in a concentration area of their choice. Available concentrations might include mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, or environmental engineering.
- Reflection: Each semester, students will be given time for weekly reflection. The objectives of these sessions will help tie together the components of their technical, engineering education; integrate their engineering education with their core classes; and examine their training in light of the needs of society.
The creation of the program coincides with the launch of the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society in a state-of-the-art science and engineering center slated to open in the fall of 2021, and the centerpiece of a $300 million investment in the sciences. The institute will become the hub for applied and innovative research that addresses complex problems by incorporating aspects of design thinking, implementation and data science, making/prototyping, entrepreneurship, and interdisciplinary collaboration across and beyond the BC community. Central to the Schiller Institute is interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty and students to identify solutions to society’s more pressing challenges in the areas of energy, health, and environment while also educating the next generation of science leaders.
“The launch of an undergraduate engineering degree promises to position Boston College and our graduates to help lead the way on ethical, human-centered explorations of the possibilities and perils of technology in the 21st century.”
The 20-credit Engineering Fundamentals Studio course in sophomore year will anchor the degree program as a year-long exploration of central engineering topics, including linear systems theory, dynamics, circuits, transport phenomena, thermodynamics, and mechatronics. Additional experiential courses include the Junior Collaborative Project Lab and Senior Impact Project.
“This will be an ambitious, intensive, and engaging new major,” Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., said. “We will be asking our engineering students to complete a rigorous engineering curriculum and to embrace the core curriculum that provides the foundation for our distinctive identity as a Jesuit liberal arts university. Graduates of our Human-Centered Engineering program will be well prepared for lives and careers that will respond to the complex challenges they will face as they strive to build the future our rapidly changing world demands.”
Human-Centered Engineering will prepare graduates for the broadest range of career trajectories in the private or public sector, industry, or non-profit realm. In addition to graduate studies, career paths include positions such as product design engineer in the health care sector; environmental policy consultant; engineer at an alternative energy start-up; technical analyst at a social impact non-governmental organization; or high-tech sector program manager.
The launch of the new program fits within the University mission to educate students, to support their moral formation, and to prepare them to be “men and women for others.”
“The notion of having real empathy for people, and using that empathy and engineering to design solutions around real human problems is absolutely the best way to make an impact—it is exactly what BC is uniquely suited to do,” noted Patrick Grady ’04, a partner at Sequoia Capital and a member of the scientific advisory committee of the University’s Board of Regents. “This is not engineering for engineering’s sake—this is engineering for impact.”
—Ed Hayward | University Communications | April 2020
This article originally appeared in BCNews.