New Frontiers to Explore between the Humanities and Engineering

Lorén Spears explains traditional building techniques and materials during the EGR 105 guided nature walk. Photo courtesy of Dr. Sigrid Berka

2023 marked the beginning of URI’s two-year National Endowment for the Humanities Connections grant, which will allow for an interdisciplinary faculty group to tackle inclusive teaching strategies as well as provide innovative programming for first year engineering students. 

One such activity designed for those enrolled in EGR 105, the first engineering class taken by students at URI, was a lecture on “Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Science & Ways of Knowing” and a guided nature walk led by Tomaquag Museum Director Lorén Spears. Participants of this particular session learned together about a wide range of topics: Indigenous ecology related to local plants and ecosystems on and around campus; about Narragansett language, prayers and knowledge passed down through families; the history of colonization of this area and beyond, efforts to return what belonged to these Indigenous populations and to decolonize some of the language that still conveys colonizing thought and practices. 

Engineering and language professors share ideas and discuss instructional strategies during an interdisciplinary workshop on intercultural competence and diversity in the classroom. Photo courtesy of Dr. Berka

On the faculty development side, an interdisciplinary group of 16 engineering and language faculty explored concepts and strategies related to intercultural competence and diversity across the curriculum. The workshop, led by Dr. Anna Santucci, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), University College Cork, featured ways of incorporating intercultural competence through targeted activities, inclusive teaching and alternative grading models. This was the first of four faculty development workshops that will take place over the two-year grant period. The next will be offered during the 27th Annual Colloquium on International Engineering Education (ACIEE 2024), taking place November 7-8, 2024 at URI’s Kingston Campus.

Japanese IEP Ambassador Hong Nguyen talks about her experiences abroad with an attendee at the 2023 ACIEE. Photo courtesy of Dr. Berka

On November 2, 2023, Dr. Sigrid Berka and Dr. Megan Echevarría, co-PI on the NEH Connections grant and former Spanish IEP director, organized and presented in the session “Funding for Merging the Humanities with Engineering” at the ACIEE 2023 in Alexandria, VA. Two IEP students, Mycarthy Newton ’24, German IEP and mechanical engineering, and Hong Nguyen ’24, Japanese IEP and biomedical engineering, also were invited to present posters about their time abroad in Germany and Japan respectively. On January 5, 2024, Dr. Echevarría brought the URI-based group’s efforts to infuse engineering with the humanities to a wider audience at this year’s Modern Language Association (MLA) conference in Philadelphia with a poster entitled “An Integrative Approach to Languages for the Professions” in the MLA Innovation Room. 

Left and center: Dr. Sigrid Berka and German IEP Ambassador Mycarthy Newton present at the 2023 ACIEE. Right: Dr. Megan Echevarría at the 2024 MLA conference. Photo credit: First & third photo, Dr. Echevarría; second: Dr. Berka