Why You Attended a Liberal Arts University

I’m an engineering student. Every time I pick up a paintbrush, disaster strikes. If somebody asked me to touch up a painting, it would definitely turn out like the twentieth century fresco of Jesus in Spain. Many of my engineering friends share similar artistic skills. However, one thing I’ve noticed despite this is that many of us are outstandingly creative.

I have one close engineering friend who has taken several design-centered classes, and the pieces she produces are spectacular. Two weeks ago she designed and built a lamp. When most people think of “engineers designing lamps” they probably think of a lightbulb hanging from a cord. This, however, was a designer lamp: something I’d expect to see in Meadows, not Lyle.

Engineers and other math-minded people often possess very unique abilities to turn math and technology into art. Measurements, symmetry, and equations are the tools of choice rather than paintbrushes, pencils, and easels.

My argument here is not that engineers as a whole are unrecognized artists that deserve galleries and art expos (keep in mind that image of the ruined twentieth century Jesus fresco). My question, rather, is why are we not fostering and promoting these skills more in our society?

On a large, nationwide scale, a sort of dichotomy has emerged between STEM fields and liberal arts fields. In short summary: STEM jobs make the money. Efforts to increase enrollment and interest in STEM majors have been in full force throughout my lifetime. Texas A&M University, located in my hometown, has a goal of enrolling 25,000 engineering students by the year 2025.

Just considering A&M’s case: what’s the use of rolling out 25,000 engineering grunts by 2029? The engineering job market quickly becomes saturated; the value of the degree is lessened; as an engineer, you’re suddenly very replaceable because there are 24,999 people who received an education identical to yours.

This is my pitch for a liberal arts education. Educating yourself in the arts and humanities makes you a human engineer, mathematician, statistician, etc., not just a blunt mathematical instrument. Uncovering those hidden creative skills within you makes you unique and extremely hirable. That’s what engineers are all about, right?

Perhaps more important than getting you hired, having a liberal arts education trains you in humanity. How can an audio engineer design a sound system for a symphony hall without ever appreciating the sounds of an orchestra? How can the power engineer plan transmission lines without understanding the towns they run through? How can a statistician compile data about a demographic without being aware of the social, political, historical, and ethical issues surrounding the area of their study? Numbers and equations make an engineer, but liberal arts make an engineer human.

Therefore, you attend a liberal arts university. The engineering classes are better, perhaps, at other schools, but the training in being human, empathetic, analytical, critical, and questioning is priceless.

No matter your major, strive to educate yourself in humanity. These lessons don’t always come from classes; they come from interacting with the world around us as well. Surrounding yourself with one-sided viewpoints is fatal in any field. In engineering, it can be literally fatal. The inventions, products, and technological revolutions we design must be functional, ethical, and effective. That in itself, in my opinion, makes the marriage between engineering and liberal arts a work of art.

This article was written by Camille Aucoin. Click here to see more of Camille’s work.