Engineering students lack built-in cultural experience

Sabrina LeBoeuf

Engineering students do not have a cultural experience built into their college career.

Whether it’s the lack of a foreign language requirement or the barrier of entry for study abroad, mechanical engineering junior Ashley Yang said she believes engineering students are missing out on obtaining a useful skill that is applicable in the workforce.

“Learning a (foreign) language is very important in an increasingly global society,” Yang said. “But I don’t know what part of the engineering curriculum would be good enough to cut to add a language requirement.”

Although some engineering students choose to take language courses, they do not count toward degree requirements, even as elective credits, senior academic adviser Sarah Talley said. She said only electrical and computer engineering majors can get elective credit from language courses. However, only three hours are counted while classes are typically six credit hours.

Because it is difficult to fit foreign language courses into this tight degree plan, some engineering students seek cultural exposure in other ways.

“A lot of (Cockrell students) study abroad to enhance their overall global experience,” Talley said. “We do a lot of (study abroad) because we don’t have a foreign language requirement. That’s where they get their cultural experience.”

Yang completed a Maymester abroad in China after her freshman year. She said this experience, as well as traveling with family, helped her gain perspective and become more empathetic. While Yang said studying abroad is a great way for engineering students to be exposed to other cultures, she knows there is a cost barrier for some.

“Not everyone has the privilege to go off and have a study abroad experience,” Yang said. ”Even if they want one, it’s something you need a lot of planning to get into your degree plan so that you can still graduate in four years.”

Sarah Hildreth, a mechanical engineering and math junior, said she wishes she could have studied abroad. Between taking 16 credit hours per semester and summer classes, studying abroad didn’t fit into her schedule.

“The mechanical engineering degree is a pretty long degree — just the sheer amount of classes you have to take,” Hildreth said. “A lot of times people don’t find time or flexibility in their schedule to add other classes.”

Hildreth said engineering students, including herself, test out of humanities classes, causing the course load to become very STEM-focused. She said other engineering majors who test out of humanities courses tend to take additional engineering courses because they align more with their interests.

“(Not taking humanities is) almost good in some ways, because a lot of the people who are engineering majors would rather take the STEM courses because they find them more enjoyable,” Hildreth said.

Yang said while the engineering degree track does not provide many feasible ways for students to have a cultural experience, it is not necessary to becoming a good engineer and does not need to be added to the core degree requirements.

“In the case of being an engineer, I don’t know that being well-rounded is necessary,” Yang said. “To be a good engineer means technical competence, problem-solving skills, and doesn’t mean you need to know history.”