Grant builds bridge between humanities and engineering at S&T

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On March 29, 2017

S&T students and faculty work with locals on a water well in Guatemala.

S&T students and faculty work with locals on a water well in Guatemala.

S&T students and faculty work with locals on a water well in Guatemala.

S&T students and faculty work with locals on a water well in Guatemala.

Missouri S&T students traveling to Latin America for study abroad trips and service projects will soon have the opportunity to learn more about the cultures of the countries they are visiting and earn course credit.

S&T’s humanities departments – history and political science; English and technical communication; and arts, languages, and philosophy – have received a $100,000 Humanities Connections grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop a series of four courses related to Latin American studies. The courses are History of Science in Latin America, to be taught by Dr. Kathleen Sheppard, assistant professor of history; Sustainable Foods in Latin American Literature, to be taught by Dr. Kathryn Dolan, assistant professor of English; Sustainability as Trope and Theme in Latin America, to be taught by Dr. Kathryn Northcut, professor and co-director of technical communication programs; and Contemporary Latin America, to be taught by Dr. Jorge Porcel, associate professor of Spanish.

The first course in the series, History of Science in Latin America, will be offered on campus during the fall 2017 semester, with one course offered each subsequent semester. The courses will be woven into existing science, engineering and humanities curricula in order to address questions related to environmental, cultural, economic and social sustainability issues in Latin America. These classroom opportunities will be reinforced through “real world” experiences. Students will conduct sustainability and environmental projects in Latin America using the skills that best suit their personal strengths, career goals and academic interests.

The courses will count toward S&T’s new Latin American studies minor. They can also supplement volunteer experiences with the university’s Engineers Without Borders student chapter or Miner Challenge alternative spring break program, and faculty-led study abroad courses in Nicaragua.

Drs. Shannon Fogg, Audra Merfeld-Langston and Kristine Swenson coordinated the grant application process. They say that S&T students who volunteer for service projects or study in Latin America have the technical and scientific acumen to complete projects, such as clean water systems, that benefit the small villages in which they work. But students often lack the depth of cultural understanding that would allow them to connect to these communities and better understand their needs. The new humanities courses will encourage that cultural understanding and increased communication, as well as involve humanities students in technically based experiential learning opportunities.

“We need students, employees and citizens who are not only scientifically and technologically literate, but also knowledgeable about the social, cultural, regulatory, legal and ethical dimensions of technological advances,” says Fogg, professor and chair of the history and political science department. “Our (volunteer and study abroad) programs in Latin America currently lack the humanistic components that would provide greater contextual understanding of the communities students visit in these countries, and that would show how their engineering-related projects may affect individual lives or impact the region’s culture.”

Fogg, Merfeld-Langston and Swenson believe the grant will create a number of interdisciplinary opportunities.

“By weaving together engineering and humanities in classes, in experiential learning projects in Latin America, and in monthly seminars, we will allow students to develop deeper understanding of the cultures and languages of the countries to which they travel while simultaneously honing and implementing the technical skills they are acquiring in other courses,” Fogg says. “This holistic approach to learning will foster the intercultural competencies necessary for students to emerge, upon graduation, as professionally prepared global citizens able to communicate effectively across languages and cultures.”

Humanities Connections grants seek to expand the role of the humanities in the undergraduate curriculum at two- and four-year institutions, offering students in all academic fields new opportunities to develop the intellectual skills and habits of mind that the humanities cultivate. Grant projects focus on connecting the resources and perspectives of the humanities to students’ broader educational and professional goals, regardless of their path of study.

“NEH provides support for projects across America that preserve our heritage, promote scholarly discoveries, and make the best of America’s humanities ideas available to all Americans,” says NEH Chairman William D. Adams.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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