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Don’t feel torn between your passion for engineering and a desire to develop your knowledge and skills in other areas. While it’s true that earning a degree in engineering can require rigorous studies, you can choose a degree program that will also provide you with an educational foundation rich in studies into the arts, natural sciences, social sciences and humanities
The Benefits of Becoming a Well-Rounded Engineer
Engineers don’t do their work in a vacuum. They design, invent and innovate within the context of society. They solve problems, but to do that, they need to understand those problems. That means developing a broad knowledge of the scientific principles, historical events, social and economic trends, political movements and cultural expectations that contribute to or affect those problems.
It’s a common misconception that engineers need only technical knowledge to succeed. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that creativity is among the most important qualities for aspiring engineers in fields like industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, computer hardware engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering and many more. After all, engineers must see the world in creative ways and devise novel solutions to sometimes longstanding problems – and that requires critical thinking and an appreciation of why how the status quo came to be.
Engineering at Liberal Arts Schools
Students have plenty of institutions to choose from when it comes to studying engineering. The in-demand degree programs are popular at public and private schools, community colleges and prestigious universities, technical schools and liberal arts colleges. Certainly there are benefits to earning an engineering degree at any one of these institutions.
However, you might be surprised to learn that some of the best undergraduate engineering degree program in the country (at least, among schools that don’t offer graduate degrees) falls under the category of a liberal arts college. U.S. News & World Report ranked Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA tied for first on its list of the best undergraduate engineering degree programs, but also ranked the school among the top 15 liberal arts schools in the nation. The private institution is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) school, offering degree paths only in STEM majors. However, it has a tradition of fitting STEM education into a backdrop that includes mandatory studies in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Interdisciplinary Studies in Engineering
If anything, the field of engineering is growing ever broader. Understanding multiple disciplines – not just the principles and applications of engineering – is now more important than ever. The National Academy of Engineering recognizes bioengineering, chemical engineering and computer science and engineering as distinct categories of the field. To succeed in these branches of engineering, you will need to know the basics of biology or chemistry or computer science.
The National Academy of Engineering even acknowledges special fields and interdisciplinary engineering as its own category. The organization notes that engineers can benefit from a background in a wide range of subjects – from atmospheric sciences to law, the military to agriculture, acoustics to economics and education to management.
Some interdisciplinary branches of engineering, like biomedical engineering, are among the top paying engineering careers available. They’re also some of the fastest growing categories, with new opportunities emerging all the time.
You don’t necessarily need a specialized degree in bioengineering, or a double major in engineering and computer science. However, by studying different branches of science, periods of history and languages and cultures, you can gain a broader insight into the world in which your engineering work will be used.