The STS Program at Stevens: Engaging the Social Dimensions of Science and Technology

4/9/2014

How can Stevens students direct the power of innovation to address society’s most pressing challenges such as global climate change, the ethical use of artificial intelligence, and the alleviation of poverty and disease? These are questions often asked by Prof. Andrew Russell, director of the Science and Technology Studies (STS) program at Stevens.

“Today’s students enter college with a keen desire to move society in the right direction,” Russell said. “Likewise, we wanted to create a program to allow students to think about science and technology in broad historical, social, and political contexts. This prepares them to apply what they’ve learned towards practical problems that they attack in their research projects, internships, and careers.”

STS is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of science and technology in human affairs. The STS program at Stevens is designed to educate and prepare the next generation of leaders to be literate, articulate, technically proficient and ethically responsible regarding all aspects of science and technology. In STS classes, students study the forces that shape scientific research and technological innovation – as well as the ways that science and technology, in turn, shape human societies and cultures.

The STS program, which was launched at Stevens in 2012, currently offers two undergraduate degrees and minor options: the B.A. in Science Communication and the B.S. in Science, Technology & Society.

Student Impact

Since its inception, STS has attracted students from a variety of backgrounds. Two such students, Shane Arlington ’16 and Frankie Guarini ‘16, are currently earning double degrees in Science, Technology & Society in addition to their degrees in Chemical Engineering and Visual Arts & Technology, respectively.

“As soon as I was shown the world of STS by Professor Vinsel in Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, how great its depth is, and how many fields are addressed under the major’s purview, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to pursue it as a second degree,” Guarini said.

For Arlington, the program fit with his career plans to work at a chemical or materials company before pursuing his Juris Doctorate degree.

“I have been interested in pursuing a career in patent law since high school, where I competed in Mock Trial,” Arlington said. “When I was first informed of the developing STS program, I spoke to Professor Russell about the possibility of a double degree, and actually began my STS studies as a study abroad student at Queen Mary, University of London, before returning to Stevens.”

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of STS, a variety of fields and courses count toward the degree. Prof. Russell believes STS enhances the Stevens experience through its ability to combine a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives on science, technology, medicine, and engineering.

“For our students to really understand the place of science and technology in the 21st century, they need to incorporate flexibility and diversity into their ways of thinking,” he said. “Our current problems don’t fall into neat disciplinary boxes, so it makes no sense to confine our approach to addressing and solving these problems to a single discipline.”

STS courses such as “Environmental Communication”, “Research and Innovation Policy”, “Philosophy of Technology”, and “Science and the Media” expose students to these current social issues and provide opportunities to explore case studies in group projects and research activities. One such course, “Engineering in History”, will be taught in collaboration with the IEEE History Center at Stevens and will allow students to reconstruct past innovations in a lab-based classroom environment.

“My ‘Introduction to Science and Technology Studies’ class exposed me to the world of STS and changed the way I view almost everything,” Guarini said. “From existential ramifications of the potential development of artificial general intelligence to the great divide between field experts and the general public, the realm of STS fascinated me, and I was hooked instantly.”

“My favorite class so far has been ‘Technology and Society in America’, which focused on the historical impacts of advancements in engineering and science; we examined these impacts by looking at the development of the automobile,” Arlington said.

The Science & Technology Studies Pre-College Experience

For the first time, prospective students can get a taste of STS through the Stevens Summer pre-college experience. In this weeklong program, high school students will learn about career opportunities that will shape our technology-driven future, and work with local professionals in business, industry, and government on important issues such as environmental sustainability, Internet privacy, healthcare policy, public relations, and science communication.

To learn more about Science and Technology Studies at Stevens, visit www.stevens.edu/cal/sts.

About Stevens Institute of Technology
Stevens Institute of Technology, The Innovation University®, is a premier, private research university situated in Hoboken, N.J. overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Founded in 1870, technological innovation has been the hallmark and legacy of Stevens’ education and research programs for more than 140 years. Within the university’s three schools and one college, more than 6,100 undergraduate and graduate students collaborate with more than 350 faculty members in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. Stevens is home to three national research centers of excellence, as well as joint research programs focused on critical industries such as healthcare, energy, finance, defense and STEM education and coastal sustainability. The university is consistently ranked among the nation’s elite for return on investment for students, career services programs and mid-career salaries of alumni. Stevens is in the midst of a 10-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., designed to further extend the Stevens legacy to create a forward-looking and far-reaching institution with global impact.