The College of Integrative Sciences has introduced a new interdisciplinary minor in Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences (IDEAS), set to start this fall.
The minor will introduce skills in engineering and design, bringing together existing arts, design, and applied science courses to create a more concrete guide for students interested in these various fields. Faculty in all of the associated fields played a role in developing the new program: Dean of Arts and Humanities and Hollis Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Ellen Nerenberg, Associate Professor of Art Elijah Huge, Professor of Art David Schorr, Digital Design Technologist Chris Chenier, Beach Professor of Chemistry Joseph Knee, Professor of Physics Greg Voth, and Professor of Physics Francis Starr.
“The minor really focuses on hands-on experiential learning that encompasses both the technical and aesthetic sides of design and engineering,” Francis Starr, co-proposer of the minor and director of the College of Integrated Studies (CIS), said.
There have been a variety of independent efforts across campus to address design and engineering separately but rarely the intersection between these disciplines. However, around two years ago, as Starr described, with encouragement from University President Michael Roth and Provost Joyce Jacobsen, a group of faculty members initiated a series of discussions about how to grow and develop these efforts.
“After extended discussions in the 2015-16 academic year, an ad hoc group of colleagues began drafting a possible framework for an interdisciplinary minor,” Nerenberg wrote in an email to The Argus. “This was a careful process and a sticky one in that it gathered consensus from various constituencies as it rolled along. The ad hoc committee on design visited the educational policy committee twice in 2016-17. In the period in between the first and second visit, some serious redrafting took place, and what was approved was subsequently presented to the Wesleyan faculty and is available for review on the minor’s website now.”
The minor itself consists of six courses. Students starting the minor are required to take one project-based course in Digital Design from the Arts division (“Digital Art,” “Studies in Computer-based Modeling and Digital Fabrication,” or “Physical Computing in Art and Design”) and one project-based Design & Engineering course in the Sciences division (“Introduction to Design and Engineering,” “Introduction to Sensors,” “Measurement,” or“Data Analysis and Computational Media: Videogame Design and Development”).
Beyond this introduction, students must then complete four more courses, which are selected from “modules” that direct students to focus their interests.
“These modules range from performance design, to environmental, to materials science, and thus give students a lot of flexibility in tailoring the curriculum to their interests,” Starr said.
The University has offered students design and engineering opportunities within the liberal arts environment through the urban studies course cluster, the art studio major, and the “3-2” or “4-2” programs, in which students receive a BA from Wesleyan and a BS in engineering from a partnering institution. However, this CIS minor will provide a path for many students who consider Wesleyan’s dual-degree programs in engineering but choose not to pursue it due to the constraints it places on their ability to engage across the curriculum.
“One of the reasons the new minor excites me, is that it offers a different path into engineering from our existing 3-2 program,” Starr said in an article posted on the University’s website. The IDEAS minor uses hands-on fabrication to motivate learning, rather than a traditional focus on rote training.
Wesleyan is one of the first liberal arts institutions to combine design and engineering. According to Starr, though Smith and Swarthmore Colleges are also looking at these same questions of how to create a more comprehensive program that combines art and design, the University is at the forefront of this integrated approach.
“This program, in many ways, is kind of an experiment,” Starr said. “There’s not an established curriculum out there to follow. This is how you make an integrated design and computer program. So, we’re trying to build this ourselves, and the first few years here are going to be an experiment to really see what works best.”
As of time of publishing, there are still seats available in some of the courses that are prerequisites for the minor, such as “Introduction to Sensors, Measurement, and Data Analysis,” “Digital Arts,” and “Studies in Computer-based Modeling and Digital Fabrication.”