Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Learning Foresight and Hindsight

Today in my senior design class we had an interesting activity--Q&A with the department head. Strictly speaking it wasn't all that important to attend, and looking back I might have better spent my time working on my projects which are due next week. But since I did go, I started thinking about some perspectives of other students.

At my university, there are a few general education requirements for all students, of all degrees--and they are humanities courses. So engineering students must take at least this number of liberal arts classes from a given list. In order to matriculate into the degree program, it is necessary for students to take a number of basic science and math classes also. In my department, completion of the degree requires taking a certain number of mandatory classes, a certain number of departmental electives, and a small number of "technical electives" which are classes in other departments that are useful on a particular exam engineers need to take for licensure.

It just so happens that in my degree, the number of departmental elective requirements is the same as the number of general humanities requirements. One student brought that up, and he honestly hated this idea that he had to take these courses (humanities) which he insisted would not help him at all in his career. He wanted to take only engineering/technical classes, and not waste his time, so to speak, with classes like history or literature which didn't contribute anything to his career aspirations.

I, on the other hand, fully enjoyed my non-technical classes. I even took extra ones because I enjoyed the subject matter so much, and might have even adopted a minor if I had the time to do it, and weren't so late in my degree already. I've also found that what I've learned in those classes helped me grow as a person far more than any technical class. And I think I care about that a little more.

The department head agreed with me, actually, telling the student that the classes he took himself when he was undergrad in psychology helped him in his job (as dept. head) more than any technical class, and that the skills one can acquire in them are universal, unlike technical skills which are more specific.

He also gave the example of students who had graduated already and were in industry--there was only one class they found to be useful at all, which was senior design. The logic there is that senior design prepares them (or intends to) for the "real world" of industry, and the design process. Whereas other classes are "pencil pushing" and theoretical only.

I guess I'm more of a pencil-pusher type. I don't intend to go into industry, I hate senior design, and I loved the mathematical classes I took, more so than the design-oriented, and as I mentioned before, I liked the non-technical classes, too. When I started college, I never would have pictured myself where I am now, but I'm not disappointed with what I have learned--I really wish I could have learned more. While I am looking forward to graduation and finishing my degree, there is a part of me that wants to continue learning. And I don't mean learning something specific, but just learning in general.


the crazy jogger said...

we have something similar here. most of the students studying here are required to do arabic courses, since this is Uni in Saudi Arabia. I for one do not really like taking them. They DO take alot of my time n since they have lower weight in the GPA, I prefer not to take them.
but personally I thnk we need more humanitarian classes, cuz they do help us in Gen Life. Sadly most of the humanities classes here are in Business majors

sami said...


About your "love of mathematics", there is a lot of applied mathematics in engineering fields, like optimisation, scientific computing, operationnel Research..etc