At MIT, the humanities are just as important as STEM (Boston Globe)

Even in our technology-fueled society, the humanities have never been more important. MIT knows it, and so do top tech companies like Google. As Deborah K. Fitzgerald, the Kenan Sahin Dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, notes:

In a recent speech, Marissa Mayer, then vice-president at Google, noted that “We are going through a period of unbelievable growth and will be hiring about 6,000 people this year — and probably 4,000-5,000 from the humanities.” Developing user interfaces, she explained, is as much about knowing how to observe and understand people as about pure technological skill.

In her recent Boston Globe op-ed piece, and an associated longer commentary on the MIT SHASS website, Dean Fitzgerald reminds us of the power of the humanities and their central position in the MIT education.

The role of the humanities has been the subject of much recent debate amid concerns that the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) are eclipsing the humanities fields, in terms of relevance and career prospects.

So some may be surprised, and, we hope, reassured, to learn that here at MIT — a bastion of STEM education — we view the humanities, arts, and social sciences as essential, both for educating great engineers, scientists, scholars, and citizens, and for sustaining the Institute’s capacity for innovation.

Why? Because the Institute’s mission is to advance knowledge and educate students who are prepared to help solve the world’s most challenging problems – in energy, health care, transportation, and dozens of other fields. To do this, our graduates naturally need advanced technical knowledge and skills — the deep, original thinking about the physical universe that is the genius of the science and engineering fields.

But the world’s problems are never tidily confined to the laboratory, workbench, or spreadsheet. From climate change to poverty to disease, the challenges of our age are unwaveringly human in nature and scale; and engineering and science issues are always embedded in broader human realities, from deeply-felt cultural traditions to building codes to political tensions. So our students also need an in-depth understanding of human complexities — the political, cultural, and economic realities that shape our existence — as well as fluency in the powerful forms of thinking and creativity cultivated by the humanities, arts, and social sciences.

MIT’s curriculum has evolved significantly over the past fifty years to require all undergraduates to spend substantial time on subjects like literature, languages, economics, music, and history. In fact, every MIT undergraduate takes a minimum of eight such classes — nearly 25% of their total class time.

Read more from the Boston Globe op-ed, or read the expanded commentary at the MIT SHASS website.

Over 1/3 of the courses in MIT OpenCourseWare are in the humanities, fine arts, and social sciences — a testament to the central role these disciplines play in the MIT education. We invite you to take a closer look.

4 thoughts on “At MIT, the humanities are just as important as STEM (Boston Globe)

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