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Engineering and Computer Science Initiative

Student projects from our first-year introductory engineering course, Exploring Engineering (ESC 100)

Student projects from our first-year introductory engineering course, Exploring Engineering (ESC 100)

President Harris speaking at the 2023 Engineering and Liberal Education (ELE) symposium

President Harris speaking at the 2023 Engineering and Liberal Education (ELE) symposium

Our strategic plan is inspired by a bold, enduring vision: Developing every student to lead with wisdom, empathy and courage, in ways large and small, now and across multiple tomorrows.

In the context of the digital revolution and in a time of rapid technological change, to thrive across multiple tomorrows, students will need both technical competence and the breadth of intellectual perspectives and skills to (1) ask and answer critical questions about the moral, ethical, social, cultural and political implications of technological advance and (2) to produce, synthesize and employ knowledge.

To achieve these aims, Union College is taking Engineering & Computer Science to the next level by:

  • Expanding the menu of degree programs offered. We currently offer undergraduate degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Computer Science. New majors in Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering have now been added, as has a new minor in Music Technology.

  • Adding new faculty expertise across engineering and computer science. Recent hires have included Stephanie Curley and Michael Okwori in the Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering department and Carolyn Rodak, our inaugural Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

  • Offering all students new ways to make critical intellectual connections by integrating engineering and the liberal arts at Union more deeply.

For engineering and computer science majors, the Initiative supplies new learning opportunities within the context of a broad and vibrant liberal arts training. For students selecting other majors, the Initiative contributes to an expanding menu of opportunities at Union to develop competencies related to data and technology. The Initiative seeks to bring both types of students together, inside and outside the classroom, to bring to bear the diverse disciplinary perspectives needed to address today’s local, national, and global challenges.

Science and Engineering Building

Union's new Integrated Science and Engineering Complex (ISEC)

Student project in Mechanical Engineering Class

Student project in Mechanical Engineering Class

Templeton Institute (TI)

The Templeton Institute (TI) of Engineering and Computer Science works to promote the integration of engineering and computer science and the liberal arts by bringing together teachers, scholars, learners, and practitioners as collaborators inside and outside the classroom on projects focused on engineering and computer science themes and real-world challenges.

Our current two-year theme for the TI is Artificial Intelligence. Most recently, we hosted a faculty panel to explore the various ways in which Union instructors are experimenting with Generative Artificial Intelligences such as ChatGPT in their classrooms across campus. Additionally, we value investigations of the intersections among the liberal arts and engineering and computer science. Part of our upcoming TI programming includes, for instance, a film screening of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer (2023), which we will contextualize through a multidisciplinary faculty panel interrogating the film with faculty representatives from all four of Union's divisions.

Past TI-sponsored projects have included interdisciplinary collaborative work between students and faculty in biology and music studying birdsongs.

Presentation from NSF SUITED Workshop held at Union

Presentation from NSF SUITED Workshop held at Union

Student projects from first-year engineering course, Exploring Engineering

Student projects from first-year engineering course, Exploring Engineering

Additional Integrations of Engineering and the Liberal Arts

A critical feature of our Engineering and Computer Science programs is its strong foundation in a liberal arts education. In addition to the Templeton Institute (TI) programming mentioned above, integration is also achieved through a variety of innovative programming, including:

General Education courses taught by engineers

  1. Water, Sanitation and Public Health (Carolyn Rodak, Winter ‘24) This course examines the connections between water, sanitation, and public health. Students will learn about water sources and potential sources of contamination; the role of drinking water and wastewater treatment in reducing outbreaks of disease; and explore real world examples of water and sanitation concerns.
  2. New Wall of China (Ashraf Ghaly & Megan Ferry, Fall '25) An interdisciplinary overview of the cultural, historical, and artistic attributes of a region in China whose geo-political landscape has been dramatically impacted by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. In providing a context to the construction, students will be introduced to the intricate connections between all the above factors and engineering, technology, and the environment.
  3. Conservation and Biodiversity (Ashok Ramasubramanian, Spring '23) This class covered the biodiversity crisis and actions that can reverse harmful trends. Local, regional, and national trends were covered.

Innovative team-taught courses

Cyborgs (Fall 2023) Cybernetic organisms, or “cyborgs,” represent the ultimate integration of biology and technology since these are organisms living with abiotic parts. This exciting new interdisciplinary course provides an introduction to the biological and computer science concepts fundamental to the development of cyborg technology as well as critical evaluation of the consequences of introducing such technology in society.

Teamwork and Learning Outside the Classroom

Engineering Competition Teams

Aero Competition

Airplane designed and built at Union

Baja Competition

Scene from the Baja competition

Each year, Union students from engineering and other majors participate in two competitions organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)

SAE Aero: Students design and build from scratch a load carrying airplane. They enjoy the valuable experience of working on a real-world engineering team, led by a faculty adviser. Each team member has a specific task – engine, structure, landing gear, controls, testing, and so on. A team leader integrates all the parts, and together they troubleshoot and test the final design. Students then compete with other teams in an international competition.

SAE Baja: Each year, Union mechanical engineering and other students have a go in the Mini-Baja Competition, a rough-and-tumble road race. Teams from the U.S. and Canada design, build, promote, test and race a small, single-seat off-road vehicle and compete against each other in a variety of categories on land and in water, pushing their creations to the limit.

Student Exposure to all Facets of Investing

Student Investment Funds (SIFs) present an experiential learning opportunity for students from several disciplines. The setup of Union College’s SIF enables integration of engineering and the liberal arts. Students are exposed to tradeoffs such as those between maximizing returns and sustainable investing. The project is led by the Economics department. While economics students can evaluate company financial statements, and assess the overall portfolio performance and risk, much more is needed for proper evaluation of the fund’s investments. Science and engineering students are needed to evaluate company technologies, how those technologies contribute to the company’s performance and competitive advantage. Political science students are needed to assess the geopolitical and regulatory environment in which the companies operate. Computer science students can process and visualize relevant data. Psychology students can contribute by understanding how customers and other investors will behave with regards to the company’s products or share price. Humanities students are needed to provide insights on company ethics and on the fund’s communication with the outside world.