New Interdisciplinary STS Graduate Certificate Offers Tech Students a Cultural Perspective on Science

A newly approved certificate study program in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts offers Georgia Tech graduate students a broader perspective on science and technology.

The Science, Technology, and Society (STS) Graduate Certificate is designed to enable graduate students from any college in the University to better understand the dynamic relationship between science and culture. Recipients of the certificate will be able to demonstrate a special competence in applying a holistic, cultural research lens to their home discipline research.

“Today, whether working as a project leader in industry or as a researcher in academia, the ability to communicate the social value of research is more important than ever,” said Anne Pollock, assistant professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, and the certificate’s main coordinator. “The courses in the certificate are an excellent opportunity to hone critical thinking and written and oral communication, and to demonstrate that competence to future employers.”

The certificate was an idea formulated in faculty brainstorming sessions organized by Dean Jacqueline Royster in 2010, at the start of her tenure as dean. John Krige, professor in the School of History, Technology, and Society, convened an STS Graduate Seminar in the Fall of 2011 as a first step toward an official certificate.

“Science and engineering students who wish to be leaders in their careers simply cannot function successfully unless they are aware of the historical, sociological, economical, international, and political implications of what they do,” said Krige. “Wherever they lever their training they will be embedded in a social world.”

Nearly one dozen faculty members signed up to teach a session, a true reflection of the diversity and richness of both STS studies and IAC research.

Robert Rosenberger, assistant professor in the School of Public Policy, was a guest lecturer in the seminar and appreciated working with students from other disciplines.

"Now I'm on the dissertation committee of a student I met during that session," he said. "The different disciplinary backgrounds of the students–and me too, I'm a philosopher–lead to consistently strong discussions."

In the fall of 2012, the certificate received sponsorship of IAC schools. It was approved by the Institute’s Graduate Curriculum Committee in January, by the Academic Senate in February, and the University System of Georgia in March. While the certificate’s required courses have been taught over the past year as a trial run, the Registrar notified the Board of Regents in March that classes will be offered in Fall 2013, making the certificate official.

Carol Colatrella, associate dean of graduate studies in the Ivan Allen College, emphasized the necessity of students from any area of study to consider the “human dimensions” of the science, technology, engineering, and math research offered by the certificate.

“It is not enough to invent or to improve technologies and technical processes. One should recognize the interests that motivate designers and consumers,” she said.

For IAC, the social complexities posed by these interests are challenges the college is ready to prepare its students to tackle.

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