Liberal Arts or STEM? A False Choice.

Liberal Arts or STEM: A False Choice

If the 20th century was the century of specialization, then the 21st century is becoming the century of integrative thinking.

In the past century, colleges and universities offered choices of majoring in professional, STEM or liberal arts disciplines. In the first two decades of this century, there is now a discernible movement towards creation of a third choice: programs that integrate arts and sciences, technology and humanities, business and liberal arts, law and medicine, computing and finance – in short of almost anything one can imagine. New alloys of knowledge are being created and pursued by Gen-Z and millennials, whom we refer to as the “AND” generations.

Few Examples of Integration of Disciplines

Allegheny College: “Liberal Arts-Plus”
Allegheny College “Liberal Arts-Plus” requires their students to declare a major and a minor, creating interesting combinations like “Business & Philosophy” and “Economics & French”. The college has also recently launched a pioneering program in “Integrative Informatics” to help students “understand the impact of information, data and technology on society and learn to develop new uses for data analysis.” Allegheny College takes pride in preparing adaptive, lifelong learners for a “dynamic society”, says Stephen Onyeiwu, Economics Department chair.

Bryant University: Business+Liberal Arts OR Liberal Arts+Business
Bryant University’s innovative curriculum mandates business majors to minor in liberal arts, and vice versa. A bold and daring experiment in combining the professional and foundational. The curriculum was designed to address the number one need of recruiting managers at corporations: to hire well-rounded business minds. Visit their website.

Stanford University: CS+X
Stanford’s CS + X initiative where X = {Art Practice, Classics, Comparative Literature, English, French, German Studies, History, Iberian and Latin American Cultures, Italian, Linguistics, Music, Philosophy, Slavic Languages and Literature, or Spanish} honors integration and human complexity. Here is an excerpt from their website:

Intersecting opposites create altered perspectives, fresh intellectual possibilities and new strengths. CS+X is an initiative designed to allow students to pursue their academic passions in multiple academic fields. It aims to help undergraduates balance pragmatism with ambition. And it affords them intellectual environments in which they can develop their creativity and analytic robustness by acquiring skills in separate but mutually galvanizing fields of study: engineering speaking to the imagination while literature, philosophy and language imbue technical challenges with human significance.

North Central College: “21st Century Engineer”
North Central College, a leading liberal arts college, recently launched their “21st Century Engineer” program designed to produce customer-facing engineers who are also ethically-minded problem solvers, consummate communicators, agile thinkers, and idea generators.

Wake Forest University: Engineering Powered by Liberal Arts
Wake Forest too recently launched their engineering program in the context of a liberal arts school.

Tech Powerhouses Breaking Down Silos

Columbia University: “Engineering Plus”
Columbia University’s “Engineering Plus” was redesigned from the ground up “because we live during an unprecedented time when engineering is the key to so much from medicine to moviemaking; from smart cities to smart policies; from new journalism to new economics to new technologies.”

Carnegie Mellon: Multidisciplinary Degrees
Over the years, Carnegie Mellon has created several multidisciplinary degree programs such as Entertainment Technology Center’s Masters in Entertainment Technology, Masters in Computational Finance, Integrated Innovation Institute’s Masters in Integrated Innovation for Products and Services, Masters in Software Management, and Masters in Technology Ventures.

Most recently, Carnegie Mellon University’s top-ranked Tepper School of Business and School of Computer Science joined hands to create their new Master of Science in Product Management – the first-of-its-kind degree in the world. The degree is designed to accelerate careers and boost earning potential of software developers. The 12-month Master of Science in Product Management program provides a thorough, challenging and balanced curriculum that enhances the technical skills, business acumen and social intelligence students will need to be successful in the role of a Product Manager.

University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information
The founding Dean at this new School of Computing and Information formulated a vision “to create technology and expertise that enables evidence-based modeling and decision making in the context of interacting natural, social and engineered systems” and a mission “to make the world a better place through polymathic education and the science of interacting systems.”

Capitol Technology University: Multidisciplinary Degrees
A leader in cybersecurity programs, Capitol Tech offers degrees that combine cybersecurity with numerous other disciplines such as construction management, critical infrastructure, construction information technology, aviation, and business. As an example, see their online bachelors in construction management and critical infrastructure.

What’s Driving Integration of Disciplines

Three forces are disrupting traditional disciplinary boundaries:

Enlightened Employers
Employers have been telling colleges and universities that they want well-rounded (polymathic), customer-facing, agile thinkers, idea generators who can also communicate impeccably. Employers hope that the integrative thinkers will help tackle problems like: How do we go about building ethical AI? How do we deploy science to restore balance to the planet? How do we advance medicine and humanity together? How do we develop interesting engaging products that drive growth?

Gen-Z Students Growing Up in A World Filled with Complexity
Gen-Z is the most diverse and the most educated generation yet. They value creativity, have global aspirations, draw inspiration from anywhere, and want to make the planet a better place. To them, the internet is an extension of their brain.

Integrative Thinking: An Idea Whose Time has Come
In 2007, Roger Martin, then the Dean of Rotman School of Business at University of Toronto, wrote the thoughtful book titled “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking” with the premise that the new leaders creatively resolve the tension in opposing models by forming entirely new and superior ones instead of choosing one at the expense of the other. He arrived at this insight by interviewing 50 successful leaders who shared a distinct common characteristic – “the predisposition and capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads. And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.”

In 2011, another book — “Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession” — which comes out of extensive study by the Carnegie Foundation, argues for a more integrative approach to business education.

In 2017, Scott Hartley published the book titled “The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World“. Here is how Scott describes the new world order:

The title of my new book, The Fuzzy and the Techie, refers to the lighthearted framing of “fuzzies” and “techies,” a term they use at Stanford University. Fuzzies refer to those who study the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Techies are those from the engineering or computer sciences. Rather than embrace this faux opposition, The Fuzzy and the Techie looks at how the liberal arts is not mutually exclusive with technical literacy. Instead, for the best products, and in the best companies and classrooms, great innovation comes through the blending and coordination of these two sides. I argue that we need both context and code, data literacy and data science. And as machines take on more routine tasks within our jobs, we need deep-thinking humans in addition to deep-learning AI.

Moving forward, we anticipate that integrative programs will become more pervasive. Instead of having to choose between Professional, STEM, or Liberal Arts, prospective students will be able to choose Integrative programs that suit their intellectual needs and employer needs best.

Full disclosure: Elliance has had the good fortune to market some of the innovators listed above including Bryant University, Capitol Technology University, Carnegie Mellon University, North Central College, and University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information.

We hope we get the chance to put our brains and talent together to market academic innovations at your institution. Please review our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.