Keynote Speakers at the 2010 Symposium on
Engineering and Liberal Education

June 4-5, 2010
Union College, Schenectady, New York


Keynote Speakers

Richard K. Miller, President, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Thanassis Rikakis, Professor and Director School of Arts Media and Engineering, Arizona State University



Richard K. Miller, President, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

From the Ground Up:  Rethinking Engineering Education For the 21st Century

The engineering challenges of the 21st century move beyond advances in applied science to preparing leaders capable of addressing the Grand Challenges of our time: global security, sustainability, health, and the joy of living.  As in previous generations, these challenges will require high levels of technological competence and inventiveness.   However, to a much greater extent than achievements of the last century, these new challenges will also require a holistic, systems approach to intentional engineering design that embraces the need to include human behavior on a global scale.  Leaders for these new global challenges will require a much greater level of understanding of non-technical issues surrounding technological invention in order to achieve the desired outcomes and avoid unintended consequences.  The unintended consequences of previous technologies have, in some cases, contributed to the grand challenges we face today.  These consequences often have to do with human behavior and require primary consideration of economic, political, social, psychological, and even religious dimensions of the introduction of new products and systems.

As a starting point, the complexity of today’s challenges requires extensive and productive conversations across academic disciplines, political boundaries, and time zones.  The liberal arts must become better integrated within our engineering educational paradigm to enable these conversations.  Perhaps it is time for a significant re-thinking of our paradigm for engineering education.

In 1997, the F.W. Olin Foundation established Olin College for the specific purpose of inventing a new paradigm for engineering education that addresses these concerns.  With an investment of nearly a half billion dollars and ten years of experimentation, the evolving program at Olin College provides one answer to the question: how could you address the educational imperatives of the 21st century within a four-year undergraduate engineering program if you could literally start over—from the ground up?  This presentation will discuss the many fundamental questions encountered in this invention process as well as the results of experimentation.  For example:

  • Is it time to redefine and broaden the definition of engineering?

  • Are we attracting the right people into engineering?

  • What role should be given to creativity, design, innovation, and systems thinking?

  • How can we affect attitudes, behaviors, and motivations so that engineering students are comfortable and effective in leading conversations and working in teams across disciplines?

  • How can we cultivate highly effective advocacy and persuasion skills in engineers?

  • How can substantial gender balance be established and maintained within a demanding engineering curriculum?

  • What is the most effective way to promote entrepreneurial thought and action?

  • How can we develop higher levels of student engagement in their education and career?

  • How can we develop independent and adaptive learning skills that will persist long into professional practice?

  • How can this all be included within an already over-crowded 4-year undergraduate program in engineering?

Richard K. Miller was appointed the President and first employee of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in 1999, where he also holds an appointment as Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He served as Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa from 1992-1999, and spent the previous 17 years on the engineering faculties at the University of Southern California (where he held the position of Associate Dean for Academic Affairs) and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dr. Miller's research interests are in applied mechanics and he is the author or co-author of about 100 reviewed journal articles and other technical publications. The recipient of five teaching awards at two universities, he is a past chair of the Engineering Advisory Committee at NSF, past chair of the AITU, a member of the Visiting Committee at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, and has been a consultant to the World Bank on the establishment of new academic institutions, among other activities.

A native Californian, Dr. Miller earned his B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1971 from the University of California, Davis, where he received the 2002 Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award. In 1972, he earned his M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1976 he earned his Ph.D. in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology.




Thanassis Rikakis, Professor and Director School of Arts Media and Engineering, Arizona State University

Meta-structures for a Contemporary Liberal Education

This presentation discusses mechanisms that can facilitate the implementation and growth of a contemporary liberal education that prepares students for addressing the complex problems of the 21st century; problems that transcend disciplinary preparation and practice.   Such an education requires structures that do not grow from a disciplinary root but instead focus on training liberal thinkers and practitioners and complex problem solvers.  In other words, it is proposed that we should not only be looking for ways to expand engineering education but also for ways to structure a meta-disciplinary liberal education.   The presentation will propose three meta-structures that can support this type of education:

  • Large, complex problems: Focusing on complex areas of current societal significance elevates process and outcomes past disciplinary expectations and norms while allowing ample space for integration of disciplinary expertise and evolution of disciplinary knowledge.  The problem areas change as society evolves.

  • Common proficiencies: Structuring curricula around complex problems can be facilitated by the mechanism of common proficiencies.   These must be proficiencies that are central to the problem area and go beyond disciplinary descriptors. For example, in the problem area of human centric digital media, the proficiency of modeling and inference can be acquired in a data structures course, a theater improvisation course or a social analysis course.

  • Evaluation of Network Structures and Impact:  Evaluation matrices need to align with the proposed structural principles of Liberal Education.  These matrices should promote: Integrative evaluation of team and individual performance;  focus on societal impact; multiple pathways for showing impact.  The evaluation of the overall educational structure should include examination of correlations between networks of proficiencies, teams and outcomes.

The talk will be supported by examples from the digital culture undergraduate and digital media graduate curricula at the School of Arts, Media and Engineering at ASU.

Thanassis Rikakis is Professor and founding Director of the School of Arts Media and Engineering (AME) at Arizona State University (  Dr. Rikakis research work and publications are in the areas of experiential media, mixed reality rehabilitation, interdisciplinary education, sound perception, and media arts systems for education. He is Principal Investigator of a current NSF IGERT grant for interdisciplinary research and education in experiential media and Director of the Digital Culture Curriculum at ASU. His educational background is in music composition and computer music.