By EDWARD B. FISKE
When future engineers think about likely places to study in the U.S., the first names that usually come to mind are traditional powerhouses such as California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Next come top technical schools like Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
But there is another category of U.S. schools that budding aeronautical, chemical, electrical and other engineers would do well to consider: colleges and universities that offer engineering instruction as part of a broader liberal-arts curriculum.
If you think about it, this approach makes sense. Engineering is the point where science and the humanities meet head on. For example, there’s no such thing as a “perfect bridge.” There may be a “best bridge” if those designing it can agree on how to weigh factors such as expense, aesthetics and durability. But these are value judgments for which there are no mathematical formulas. To succeed in today’s global society, engineers need to be just as adept at dealing with values as they are at manipulating computer algorithms.
Dozens of high-quality schools embed engineering programs within a liberal-arts curriculum — offering students the best of both worlds. Two Ivy League institutions, Dartmouth and Princeton, are on this list. Here are eight others to consider. For more details on each, check out the Fiske Guide to Colleges.*
With 3,500 undergraduates (and hardly any graduate students to soak up professors’ attention), Bucknell is larger than many of the liberal-arts colleges with which it competes for students. Its rural central Pennsylvania campus is one of the most beautiful anywhere. Some of its Greek Revival structures date from the 19th century, while others are quite modern — including the $8 million engineering building. Much of the social life revolves around fraternities and sororities.
Engineering student Marjorie Chee looks at plans for Union College's Baja Car. (Photo: Union College)
Harvey Mudd College
With 800 students, Harvey Mudd may be the finest institution that few people outside the science and engineering world have ever heard of. It rivals nearby Caltech for sheer brainpower and tops it in access to outstanding faculty. As a member of the five-college Claremont Colleges consortium, HMC offers more exposure to the liberal arts than most technology-oriented schools. It produces more Ph.D.s per capita than any other school.
This liberal-arts college with 2,400 students is a national leader in undergraduate faculty-mentored research. Along with engineering, strong programs include economics, government and psychology, as well as a new Center for Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship and Leadership. Lafayette is situated on a stately hill within striking distance of both New York City and Philadelphia.
Built on the powerful combination of business and engineering, Lehigh mixes the academic resources of a large research university with the collegial atmosphere of a much smaller institution. With more than 200 study abroad options, Lehigh specializes in preparing its 4,800 undergraduates for the global job market. The hillside campus, located in a once-great steel town, means that students get plenty of exercise.
Rice University in Houston, Texas, one of the few elite colleges that strive to keep tuition relatively affordable. (Rice University)
With 3,800 undergraduates, Rice is smaller than one might think given its huge national reputation. It is one of the few elite private colleges that strive to keep tuition relatively affordable. Located only 3 miles from downtown Houston, Rice has a full range of academic offerings but is particularly strong in engineering, architecture and music. In lieu of fraternities and sororities, Rice has a residential college system. Freshman are randomly assigned to a house of about 225 students and remain affiliated with it all four years.
The first top women’s college to offer engineering, Smith is strongly committed both to its liberal-arts mission and placing women at the forefront of science and technology. With 2,500 undergraduates, it occupies a garden-filled oasis in a small city known for its freewheeling, funky culture. Smith engineers are among the most highly sought graduates of any U.S. school.
Often described as a miniature version of an Ivy League school, Swarthmore is an intellectually intense undergraduate school that sits on a leafy campus 11 miles outside of Philadelphia. The 1,500 “Swatties” tend to be passionate about whatever they do, whether it’s academics, the arts, athletics or social activism. Faculty members are quick to engage students in research projects.
Schenectady, New York
Equally divided between engineering and the liberal arts, Union, founded in 1795, is one of the oldest colleges in the country. Its 2,200 students live and work on a 100-acre campus on a hill overlooking Schenectady, an early center of the 19th-century Industrial Revolution. The town is less than exciting, but there are outdoor getaways to be found in all directions. Interdisciplinary programs are the norm.
Edward B. Fiske is the author of Fiske Guide to Colleges.
* College descriptions adapted from Fiske Guide to Colleges 2016, © 2015 FGC Associates, LLC. Used by permission of Sourcebooks. Fiske Guide to Colleges is available on Amazon China and as an online program at www.collegecountdown.com/store.