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IDEAS: Lehigh’s Renaissance thinkers for the technology era

When Lehigh student Kara Werner ‘11 arrived at Lehigh in 2007, she was sure she wanted to study international relations. Then again, she also loved math and wanted to find an application for it in everyday life.

Two roads, it seemed to Kara, were diverging.

But when she learned about Lehigh’s new Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts, & Sciences (IDEAS) program, Werner was delighted to have found a way to integrate and explore both of her interest areas.

“Right now, I’m focused on studying topics and issues that matter to me,” said Werner. “I found IDEAS to be a great way to mesh these ideas together.”

Werner and 24 other interested and qualified students were admitted to the highly-selective IDEAS honors program in Spring 2007, and this September the program's first full inaugural class arrived on campus. This diverse group of students is intent on becoming “Renaissance thinkers” -- young men and women who are seeking to dissolve traditional educational boundaries between the arts and sciences, and engineering.



Danny Cohen '11: Pursuing studies in the arts and in engineering

“The program is meant to support students who want to merge fields from each college to create a customized educational theme,” says Jeffrey Milet, professor of theatre and co-director of IDEAS. “It is really meant for students who are passionately interested in two areas, for instance, civil engineering and political science. IDEAS helps students blend those two areas and put them together to work toward their future ambitions.”

Danny Cohen ‘11 applied to the IDEAS program because he wanted to be an engineer -- but he did not want to ignore his creative passions.

“I have this artistic and creative side that allows me to apply art to anything and everything I could potentially build or design as a civil engineer,” Cohen said. “There are quite a few students in engineering who are much more artistic than their typical classwork allows them to be.”

Cohen, an IDEAS major with a concentration in architecture and civil engineering, mentioned that his academic plan allows him to participate in several design courses.

“I was lucky enough to jump on this opportunity when it came to me,” said Cohen. “When I saw the advertisement for the IDEAS program, I realized I could be in an honors program that combines two areas, from separate schools, that I wanted to pursue. For me, it was kind of a no-brainer.”

Milet and co-director Terry Hart, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, encourage their students to consider how their own unique passions could be applied to the complex challenges of the 21st century.

“The students bring ideas to each other,” Milet said. “They focus on major problems that this generation needs to tackle. Students want to work in these fields, whether it’s fighting AIDS or global warming. They ask: How do their concentrations fit into these fields? Or, what combination of concentrations could help solve these problems?”

IDEAS students collaborate with department advisors and the program directors to combine their concentrations into an individualized academic theme. Together they select two areas of study, one in arts and sciences, and one in engineering. Students can design their own curriculum with their advisors, or they can opt to participate in interdisciplinary themes that are currently being developed. For example, Milet mentions forensics as one of these themes -- a study area that could involve biology, chemistry, psychology, and different aspects of technology found in computer science, chemical engineering, and material science.

Hart believes that the IDEAS program distinguishes Lehigh from other top universities. Lehigh has a wealth of research throughout all departments, and yet its small size allows students to interact with faculty to develop a curriculum that is tailored to their academic interests and goals.

“It’s the perfect set-up for students who want to move on to medical school or law school,” Hart said. “It helps a younger person mature and think out-of-the-box by developing thinking processes using both sides of the brain.”

Like his classmates, Glen deVillafranca ‘11 applied to the IDEAS program so that he could pursue seemingly separate interests. Now, he believes he could combine his passion for politics and foreign affairs and his strengths in math and science to give him a unique advantage in his future career.

“As of right now, I intend to start a career more related to international relations than engineering,” deVillafranca said. “This doesn’t mean that all my time spent in engineering classes will be a waste. Instead, my engineering background will give me a quantitative perspective on issues that often gets overlooked in the world of politics and foreign affairs. Engineers are not only good with numbers, but are good problem solvers. An engineering mindset focused on political problems could be an invaluable asset.”

For more information, please visit the IDEAS program Web site.

—Caitlyn Kennedy


Posted on Tuesday, September 09, 2008

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