UC Santa Cruz receives National Endowment for the Humanities grant to connect studies of humanities, engineering

Victoria Ly, left, and Erik Jung with a picroscope

Victoria Ly, left, and Erik Jung with a picroscope, an in-incubator cell culture imaging device in the lab of Associate Professor Mircea Teodorescu. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Jasmine Alinder

Jasmine Alinder, dean of Humanities, serves as the principal investigator on the project.

By: Robert Ham

Thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), UC Santa Cruz will create a new Certificate in the Humanities introducing students enrolled in the Baskin School of Engineering to humanities disciplines aimed to help them better understand the social and cultural impacts of technological change.

The $149,500 grant will be funded through the NEH’s Humanities Initiatives at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, which looks to develop new humanities programs or strengthen existing courses. Twenty-one percent of incoming freshmen who intend to declare an engineering major self-identify as Hispanic/Latino, according to the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Policy Studies. 

Jasmine Alinder, dean of Humanities, serves as the principal investigator on the project with Professor of Linguistics Pranav Anand and Professor of Literature Sean Keilen serving as co-principal investigators.

“We have three goals for the new certificate,” Alinder said. “To ensure that our many engineering students use humanistic methods to explore and understand the social, cultural, and historical ramifications of new technologies; make purposeful general education requirements that students now complete haphazardly; and, by introducing engineering students to humanities disciplines earlier, give them options should they change majors, without prolonging their time to degree.” 

The core of this new certificate program will be new courses that will look to expand the perspectives of Baskin Engineering students regarding the effects and potential for positive impact of technology on the planet and its inhabitants. Some classes under consideration for this program include an exploration of the development of communication technologies from throughout human history, a look at how new technology and innovations in science can both boost the voices of the BIPOC community while also reinforcing racial and patriarchal hierarchies, and a course that unpacks ethical and sociopolitical issues surrounding tech. While geared to engineering students, the courses will be open to all UCSC students. 

These courses will also be deliberately designed to incorporate leading-edge, learner-centered teaching practices through a collaboration between the participating instructors and the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning.

Literature Professor and CITL Director Jody Greene, who initially proposed the development of a Humanities Certificate for Engineers in 2019, celebrated “the opportunity to design an entire curriculum from scratch, using what we as a campus have learned about active and engaged pedagogies over the past few years.” 

Greene added that this certificate could be a model for new and creative educational opportunities for students that “draw on UC Santa Cruz’s long standing interdisciplinary excellence while also honoring its history of educational experimentation and curricular innovation.” 

The ultimate goal is to ensure that Baskin Engineering students can, during their first two years, fulfill their general education requirements with a coherent sequence of classes that are directly relevant to their majors in applied mathematics, electrical and robotics engineering, the computer sciences, and biotechnology. By connecting engineering education with subject areas that resonate with students’ personal and community values, the Certificate in the Humanities has the potential to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to persevere in their chosen engineering fields – fields in which they have historically been excluded.

“Baskin Engineering programs are intentional about developing the critical and humanistic thinking skills of our students. This certificate will add depth to their understanding of the social and cultural aspects of new technologies,” said Alexander Wolf, dean of the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz. 

The development of this new Certificate in Humanities will begin in earnest this spring, with a planned launch event at the start of the fall 2022 academic year. In the winter of 2024, the faculty plans to introduce a capstone involving team-based projects that will encourage a cohort of students to join the certificate program together and complete the capstone as a group, reinforcing skills needed in STEM fields.

"This is a fantastic achievement and so very promising for our future of producing humanized technologists (and technology-infused humanists),” said Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer.