Engineers and humanities

Photo courtesy of Morgan Whittemore, Student Publications

At my first meeting for my English class here at Tech, I realized something was very different from my English classes in high school. It wasn’t the weird course theme or even the awkward social distanced meeting, but it was that it seemed like all of my classmates didn’t care about learning anything in the class.

Everyone has a class they wish they didn’t have to take, but everyone I talked to in that class corroborated the statement that kept crossing my mind: no one here wants to learn anything in the humanities. Beyond that small group of people, this truth was reinforced with every engineering student I met. Basically, Tech students in STEM don’t care about the humanities.

I don’t mean to sound like some uppity book snob, but I think the Institute and its students are both so flippant towards the humanities they are hurting the effectiveness of their future STEM professionals.

For starters, if Tech didn’t have a humanities requirement most students would completely stop learning about them after high school. Even the humanities professors know how much Tech students abhor fulfilling the credit, with each of my Spanish teachers opening the class with “How many of you are just using this for an easy humanities credit?”

The American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) recommends that engineering students receive an education incorporating the humanities and actually learn from those classes. STEM courses tend to focus on cold, analytical knowledge, but humanities are instead interested in people and their connections to the world around them.

The ASEE calls out engineers for lacking communication and interpersonal skills and advises that thorough instruction in the humanities can fill this gap in many engineers’ skill sets. No company is looking for a solitary know-it-all, they want a know-it-all capable of working with others to create the best product or services possible.

Besides rounding out a resume, the humanities should be embraced as a break from the constancy of STEM coursework. My favorite day of the week is Wednesday, precisely because that’s when my English and Spanish classes meet, and I get some relief from the calculus and biomedical engineering that dominate the rest of my week. A busy STEM student may see the humanities as a distraction from their “real” work, but the broad expanse of the humanities offers a world for students to explore beyond their specialized interests.

Tech knows its status as an engineering school, but that doesn’t excuse the Institute from providing a comprehensive and serious humanities education. The skills learned in humanities courses would benefit the Institute as well as its students. The focus on written and oral communication in the humanities would bolster students’ performance in other classes and increase the worldview of its often narrow-sighted students.

I don’t expect my STEM classmates to become scholars in Shakespeare or deep-thinking philosophers, but I hope as I go through my time at Tech I see students gratefully taking breaks from their normal coursework. From reading “The Bell Jar” for fun, considering the historical context of Clueless, or examining the social implications of a J. Cole album, there are ways for STEM students to indulge in the humanities while still enjoying their time. Being a pioneering figure in your field of study is great and all but being an engineer who knows how to read is even cooler.