DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science SEAS Dean's Update

Acting Dean Sina Rabbany: Building Bridges Between the Disciplines

Photographer: Philip Hinds '17

One of the essentials of good engineering design is its integrity, its wholeness. It must conform to a plan, and serve a purpose that harmonizes with the natural world. A great bridge, such as the Golden Gate in San Francisco or the Verrazano Narrows in New York, seems almost an inevitable extension of its environment. It does, of course, fulfill the utilitarian purpose of carrying automobile traffic from one land mass to another, but it also has the power to move an observer to pause and admire its beauty and marvel at the ingenuity of its designers and builders. There is true artistry in bridge design, and aspiring civil engineers should have some familiarity with the masterpieces of art and architecture if they are to pursue careers involving the design of major structural landmarks.

Those of us who practice the art and science of bioengineering also recognize the necessity of creating devices that work in harmony with the human body. Organs are complex structures that are nourished by an organized network of blood vessels that is essential for providing oxygen and nutrients to the cells. The biggest challenge in the field of tissue engineering and regeneration remains mass transfer limitations. For the student researchers in our cell and tissue engineering lab, that is a priority. Good engineering is consequently not just about cleverness and analytical skill, but also about knowing how to employ skill in conjunction with the world as given to humanity.

More than that, it also means being able to work with other people. The stereotypical engineer is often characterized as lacking people skills, and being obsessed solely with the technical side of a project. But engineering education no longer validates that myth. Our entering students now experience a two semester sequence of courses in which they become fully cognizant of all the stakeholders in a variety of representative engineering design scenarios, from the internal dynamics of team interactions to the external exigencies of customers and other members of society affected by the project.

And getting back to bridges, here at SEAS we are also working on developing a unique program in which a select group of entering students will choose to take a coordinated series of liberal arts courses focusing on a particular world culture. After they have completed three years of their engineering program supplemented by these courses, they will work on site in a developing country constructing a bridge for another important infrastructure component benefiting that society.

We engineers recognize that we are not just required to be technologically proficient, and we engineering educators want to ensure that our graduates are able to think globally and come up with solutions that truly benefit all the world’s people. One way to do that is to work continually on tailoring our various curricula to achieve that goal.

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