Faculty Explore Engineering Sciences Concentrations

The introduction of two new engineering concentrations faced criticism from humanities professors when proposed at Tuesday’s Faculty Meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Several faculty members questioned students’ ability to balance the course requirements of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering—both of which will include 20 required half-courses—with Harvard’s commitment to providing a broad liberal arts education.


According to Evelyn Hu, area dean of electrical engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the establishment of two specialized concentrations in engineering is motivated by both growing student demand and the rapid growth of SEAS.

“Electrical engineering and mechanical engineering are not simply foundational and time-honored, but they’re also rapidly evolving,” Hu said. “Our students are among the first to realize this.”

Both concentrations will be ABET accredited, allowing students to pursue licenseship and doctorate programs in their fields.

Students in engineering sciences currently receive either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science degree. Both options provide a broad foundation in engineering, although the S.B.—which has been ABET accredited since 1962—requires 20 half-courses while the A.B. requires 16.

Students pursuing either degree choose from one of five areas.

According to Joost J. Vlassak, area dean for material sciences and mechanical engineering, nearly half of the students concentrating in engineering sciences choose to focus on mechanical engineering.

trating in engineering sciences choose to focus on mechanical engineering.

Faculty will vote on the new concentrations at next month’s Faculty Meeting. If passed, they will be only the second and third specialized engineering concentrations offered by the College. Biomedical engineering was the first, initially offered in the fall of 2010.


Although the Faculty Council voted unanimously in favor of the motion to discuss the concentrations, several professors questioned how they would fit into Harvard’s liberal arts curriculum.

“If a concentration that has 20 course requirements is structurally irreconcilable with a liberal arts education, which I think it arguably is, why create even more concentrations like these?,” said Peter J. Burgard, a professor of German.

In order to receive ABET accreditation, an engineering concentration must have at least 20 half-courses. But the need to meet national standards gave some faculty pause.


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