“The calling of the humanities is to make us truly human in the best sense of the word.”
—J. Irwin Miller (1909–2004), American industrialist, philanthropist, and activist
Before I came to WPI in August as the new editor of Transformations, math, science, and engineering were somewhat foreign to me. My love of writing and piano playing led me to study journalism and music in college. After graduation, I worked as a journalist at a daily newspaper in Connecticut before I landed at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge — an independent day school — where I oversaw the production of multiple publications, including its alumni magazine.
Given this background, I was both curious and anxious to see what it would be like to work at a polytechnic university. How would my liberal arts background mesh with a school known for science and engineering?
But I soon realized there was more to WPI than just science and engineering. For one, our students not only learn the mechanics behind a certain technology, but, through their projects, they see how that technology will affect people and society. In essence, they learn about the human side of technology.
True, most students come to WPI to study science and engineering. But it is the university’s hope that they leave here with a breadth of knowledge that goes beyond the technological. More and more, students are seeing the advantage of having a foundation in the humanities and arts, in addition to their science-based curriculum. In 2005 alone, the number of double majors—where one of the majors is in humanities—increased twofold, says Patrick Quinn, HUA department head (See Technically Speaking).
In fact, the idea that to be a twenty-first century engineer, technologist, scientist, and the like, one must be knowledgeable and educated in both the sciences and the humanities is the driving force for some exciting changes at WPI. Already, many programs integrate the two disciplines, the newest of which is the Interactive Media and Game Development major, which weaves technology with art, math with storytelling. Still, the university is looking at how it can do more.
As a newcomer, I thought humanities and arts at a technological university sounded like an oxymoron, but I have come to eat my words. It is very much the opposite at WPI. Stop in at a rehearsal of any of the eight musical ensembles, or watch a theatrical production, or sign up for studio art, and you will see that the creative arts are alive and well at WPI.
The alumni, faculty, and students featured in this issue typify the relationship between creativity and the technological mind. Erica Tworog-Dube ’00 and Don Lathrop ’56 speak about how their foundations in science and humanities have shaped their careers as a genetic counselor and a college professor, respectively. And Stephanie Wojcik ’04 says, “Arts and humanities shaped our culture... but science and technology are what make it run.”
There’s more. We check in with music professor Fred Bianchi, whose virtual orchestra brings together music and technology. Philosophy professor Roger Gottlieb talks about, among other topics, the role of philosophy at a technological college. Playwright Catherine Darensbourg ’02, who, as a freshman, intended to become a mechanical engineer, tells how she found refuge in WPI’s theatre after being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. And in our latest department addition—Entrepreneurship—Mick Darling ’99 talks about his new venture, BioStrut, which is revolutionizing the way tissue scaffolds are made.
I hope you enjoy reading this issue. I welcome your thoughts, opinions, comments, and questions.
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Last modified: Dec 16, 2005, 16:10 EST