(Published in The Oredigger.)
In the September 30, 2013 issue of the Oredigger, Jordan Francis reported on a wonderful interview that he conducted with Kiewit CEO Bruce Grewcock. In this interview, Grewcock suggested that, in addition to a working knowledge of STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), Mines students who wish to become successful engineers ought to develop proficient critical thinking and communication skills.
Grewcock said that to successfully interact with necessary and helpful non-technical people [people not well-versed in STEM fields], students and professionals must learn certain skills that are rarely taught in school. He claims that engineers need to learn to broaden their interests and perspectives, develop communication skills, and ask people’s opinions. Grewcock conveyed that he believes that these skills, in conjunction with a good sense of ethics, can help engineers both on a personal and industry-wide level.
This advice is wonderful, though, to say that these skills are not taught in schools is probably inaccurate. The skillset being described by Grewcock—understanding ethics, diverse perspectives, the development of communication skills, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, etc.—fall very nicely under the category of a liberal arts (or humanities) education. Although there has been a decline in liberal arts majors in recent years, Grewcock’s remarks reinforce the fact that a liberal arts education—the rigorous study of philosophy, political science, English, history, etc.—is invaluable. Further, his remarks reflect a more general trend among the desires of employers. For example, according to a recent report by the “Chronicle of Higher Education,” “160 employers and 107 college presidents agreed to help the public understand the importance of a ’21st-century liberal-arts education,’ comprising broad and adaptive learning, personal and social responsibility, and intellectual skills.” In another article in “Business Insider” titled “Eleven reasons to Ignore the Haters and Major in the Humanities,” Max Nisan claims that a liberal arts education actually teaches one how to think (as opposed to what facts to memorize), how to sell ideas, and how to successfully deal with people.
My personal experience with the liberal arts (undergraduate, graduate, and teaching work in philosophy) has been nothing short of pure joy. To the extent that I am a clear thinker (perhaps a topic of debate!), I have the study of philosophy to thank. Philosophy helps one think more clearly about whatever topic one chooses to study, including STEM topics. Though it is no fault of their own, I have no doubt that my freshman students would have a much easier time understanding some of the more difficult topics in calculus I (e.g., the Intermediate Value Theorem, the formal ‘epsilon-delta’ definition of a limit) if they had the opportunity to be exposed to a more rigorous study of logic (a branch of philosophy) sometime during their education.
Although Mines is well known for its great STEM education, the school also has a fantastic Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies (LAIS). While focusing on and majoring in STEM fields, Mines students can successfully develop some of the skills mentioned by Grewcock by choosing a minor in LAIS, or by applying to the McBride Honors Program. There is no doubt that the skills acquired through these programs can enrich the education experience of Mines students while at the same time make them more attractive on the job market. For more information on these opportunities, visit lais.mines.edu.