Mentalities: Engineering or Liberal Arts?

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels (and ex-Governor of Indiana) had a thought on STEM graduates and gluts.  He spoke about this at his keynote address to the National Academy of Engineering a week or so ago.

Engineers, unlike, for instance, lawyers or financial experts, frequently generate through their innovation new work for themselves and others.  Somewhere in any potential “glut” will be new Watts and Edisons and Noyces who give birth to entire new industries that require the services of engineers and non-engineers alike.

But even if we were to somehow outrun the market’s need for engineering talent, we will be a far stronger country if the engineering mentality takes a more prominent place in our national conversations.

The Liberal Arts mentality (those lawyers and financial experts, and history and philosophy majors), on the other hand, worries too much about “what might go wrong” and not enough about “what is the problem, and how do we fix it” that is the STEM’s approach to life.  The Liberal Arts mentality worries too much about “we have to do all of this for the less fortunate” and not enough about “how do we help the less fortunate help themselves, and how do we pay for that” that is the STEM’s approach to life.

There’s nothing wrong with Liberal Arts approach; it provides an important alternative way of looking at the world.  But for a burgeoning, prosperous economy in which everyone, regardless of their individual situations, can participate, we need the engineer’s problem scoping and solving mentality.

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