A new bachelor of science in engineering degree program was introduced in fall 2019 to provide students with increased opportunities in emerging engineering fields that cross the boundaries of the traditional engineering degrees offered at Lafayette. Students will choose a thematic focus in bioengineering, environment, energy, or robotics.

The program provides a flexible framework that bridges the traditional disciplinary boundaries of engineering and connects to other fields across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The foundation is a sequence of three courses based on systems thinking and engineering design principles, which will also be open to students from other degree programs. Such a foundation will encourage students to see connections across many fields and apply that knowledge to become problem-solvers, leaders, and entrepreneurs.

“We’re excited about the new bachelor of science in engineering program, which marks another pivotal time of growth for engineering at Lafayette,” says Scott Hummel, William Jeffers Director of the Engineering Division. “It’s a natural extension of the division’s responsiveness to society’s need for engineers who can find solutions that often span traditional disciplinary boundaries.”

Development of the program was spearheaded by Lauren Anderson, associate professor and head of chemical engineering, and David Brandes, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and involved a large working group of faculty from each engineering degree program.

“Systems thinking applies to a wide range of fields within and beyond engineering. It is a framework for understanding complex problems by focusing on the behavior of the interacting system of components rather than on the components themselves,” says Brandes, who serves as program chair. “This approach encourages students to think beyond the boundaries of a single discipline and often results in more successful and sustainable solutions.”

In addition to engineering courses, students will have the opportunity to take courses from across the College in fields related to their area of focus. For example, a course in bioethics could be paired with the bioengineering focus, or a course in environmental justice paired with the environment focus. Students may choose from many such courses that more deeply and intentionally connect the engineering programs to the humanities and social sciences.

“The flexible curricular framework and intentional integration with the humanities and social sciences, provides a support structure for both students and faculty to cross departmental and divisional boundaries, which will only enhance the types of multidisciplinary collaborations that are already a distinctive feature of Lafayette,” Anderson says.

The basic structure of Lafayette’s existing B.S. engineering programs has been in place for more than 100 years, and while disciplinary engineering is as vital as ever, many new and emerging fields of engineering require multiple perspectives and approaches, increasing the need for interdisciplinary engineering options. The move towards interdisciplinarity within engineering is evident at the national level with enrollment increases in bioengineering and environmental engineering exceeding 150 percent over the past decade.