Are we missing the target on social sciences in higher education?

I am an engineer by education that pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering where it took us 132 credit hours to graduate with only 18 hours or 5 classes that were considered as elective classes that would expose us to social sciences.  The engineering students would term elective classes as “easier” that need to be spread over 5 semesters in the junior and senior years to balance the grades with the “harder” classes in the areas of math, engineering and physical sciences.  I graduated with two degrees from engineering college with no real academic concept of social sciences since we either did not take these classes or if we took them with no real focus on learning but just as a class to balance the load.

It was 6 years after my undergraduate degree, when I was promoted to be a manager that I first started understanding the importance of social sciences in our lives and business as part of the Bombardier Leadership Development program.  This yearlong cohort-based leadership development program for managers was executed in 4 cities from 3 countries.  Participants came from facilities from each one of the 4 cities with peer representation from all identified areas of the business such as engineering, procurement, manufacturing, marketing, finance and human resources.  The focus of the leadership program was to work as a team, deliver a cross functional solution while building leadership skills.  In this program we also learned about Bombardiers global footprint, the geopolitical advantages and disadvantages of doing business in various countries, the political climate of the countries of operations, the legal challenges, the socio-economic responsibilities of a corporation, etc.  Additionally, we learned about empathy, communications, teamwork, corporate and personal values, leadership, cultures and business economics to name a few.  Looking back at my career now, this program was a turning point for me, the biggest learning that I had in the program was that there is so much that I do not know once I have stepped out of my engineering cocoon. Twenty-six years later, I still have the feeling that there is so much that I do not know.

Most of my career has been around technology either in the areas of engineering or information technology delivering technical products for clients.  In both areas I am surrounded by very intelligent technical people that can perform magic with technology yet have a hard time listening or understanding the needs of the customers or struggle or comprehend the financial viability of the product.  Whenever I run into instances like these, the first thing that comes to my mind is my appreciation for being selected to the Bombardier leadership development program and second is that our higher education system in the areas of technology is doing a disservice to our students.

I believe in the power of social sciences, the interrelation of institutions with society and the functions of individuals as members of society.  The scope of social science is so vast that it is hard to comprehend all the branches yet we know social sciences play a significant role in the success of enterprises, societies and individuals. We know that that we can predict the future by looking at the past since history has a tendency to repeat itself, we understand that having higher Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can lead to more success when compared with higher Intelligence (IQ) no matter what is your definition of success.  We understand that government and policy changes or economics or the learnings of the human mind can be very beneficial to us as an organization as well as individuals, yet we do not put enough emphasis on this in technical education,


As a society, we need to better understand the values of social sciences and as educators, we need to explain social sciences in a manner where the students can relate to the social sciences better by applying it in their daily lives.  We need to help our students understand themselves better while also recognizing the needs of others around them.  We need to design curriculums that exposes students to various concepts of social sciences in a manner where they can apply the concepts immediately.  We need to lead by example by approaching everything with an inquiring mind, we need to stop thinking in silos such that we can break the wall of silo thinking in higher education.  We should encourage faculty from different disciplines to work together to integrate their syllabus and potentially tie to an authentic task or problem that supports a worthwhile cause.  We should allow the students to experiment, to learn from their mistakes, to take charge of their own learning for the content as well as the process.  As educators, we should serve as role models of collaborators, communicators, discoverers, risk takers and lifelong learners. We need to lose the attitude that one college or discipline is better than others since it is the collective learning from all disciplines that makes us a complete person.

I remember, I was at a dinner in Toronto with coworkers in Bombardier leadership program and were having a debate on which business function is the best, I said, “Engineers since without us there would be no great product” and my colleague from Marketing replied, “What do engineers do anyway? They just take concepts from movies like Star Trek and deliver on someones vision”.