May 16, 2023

ways you could remake an engineering school

— Everyone gets a double major: engineering and history. That’s it. That’s all we offer. There are some required history survey courses that you take in a sequence, and then a bunch of electives. The capstone is probably a history of technology course, but it comes after and in addition to the macro- and micro-histories you’ve been studying all along. You wouldn’t have to do a bunch of integrated “context and ethics” in a technology course if you just said: Everybody studies these two things, period. There’s no complementary “rounding out” in some vague hand-wavey form. You just don’t get prepared unless you have history, full stop.

— Everyone does a 2 + 1 + 2. Instead of students cycling out from liberal arts colleges to engineering programs for a year, it’s the opposite: You come to engineering school, spin out for a deep immersion in a liberal arts environment, maybe one that also serves as your study abroad, then come back and finish.

— Everyone gets an engineering degree, but the other requirement is a Cultural Life Program, such as the one at Furman. Over four years you attend lectures, concerts, and museum exhibitions, a lot of which are your choosing, but they add up to something like 60 hours of cultural education and a required thesis course.

— Optional one-year MA in Technology in Public Life to tack on at the end.

— Gap year in classics as a required preparatory experience before you start. Establish shared terms, historical eras, key concepts that appear in any ethics-minded curricula once technical education begins.

And so forth. How will they be prepared, you ask? Ask these three graduates of St. John’s College—where everybody studies math and science and classics and philosophy and literature and music, all in nearly lock-step sequence—how they founded an AI startup. It’s not the tech that’s hard.