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Changing the World in Minor (and Major) Ways

STS Program Director Jane Lehr and Professor Laura Hosman discussing a project with students.

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Cyberwarfare. Climate change. Health inequalities. Risk communication. These are just a few of the biggest problems our world faces. Now, Cal Poly looks to equip students with the tools and skills to tackle these significant challenges with the College of Liberal Arts’ new Science, Technology & Society (STS) Minors Program.

“We’re excited to collaborate with students, faculty and staff who share a commitment to integrate the liberal arts and STEM disciplines to solve today’s most pressing problems,” said STS Minors Program Director Jane Lehr.  

Four brand new interdisciplinary minors debuted this fall under the science, technology and society masthead:

“The STS Minors Program capitalizes on Cal Poly’s long-term commitment to Learn By Doing, as well as our decades of work in real-world contexts with project partners around the world,” said Lehr.

“What’s different is that we will now intentionally, systematically and robustly foster interdisciplinary collaboration, focusing on problems that cannot be solved from one perspective or methodology,” she continued. “This is ground breaking — not just for students, but for Cal Poly and, hopefully, the world.”

The STS minors will explore the interconnections of science, technology and society, and how each impacts and influences each other and the world. Students in any major will collaborate with peers, professors and community partners on hands-on projects to gain skills to tackle the global challenges of the 21st century — “wicked” problems.

“A critical theme that STS minors explore is the complicated role of science and technology in ‘wicked’ problems,” Lehr said. “New scientific breakthroughs and technological developments contribute to both the creation and solution of challenges like climate change and health inequalities.”

These problems involve a high degree of uncertainty and a large number of stakeholders with competing perspectives, values and goals. “We need leaders now and in the future who can understand and innovate in this complicated context, creating bridges between diverse disciplines and professions to solve today and tomorrow’s complex problems.”

Dr. Coleen Carrigan, a new STS professor at Cal Poly, added that in the STS Minors Program, “We don’t want to study the world, we want to study how to change it.”

STS Program
The STS Program has a distinctive structure
that promotes interdisciplinary collaboration.

While each of the four STS minors might address the same global challenges, students will be able to choose the questions they want to explore and projects they want to create — tailoring each minor to their passions and goals.

After completing classes in their individual minor paths, all of the minor students will come together in their last class to collaborate and combine their knowledge in a project-based capstone experience.

“During their time at Cal Poly, the STS Minors Program will provide a community and site of practice for students to thrive in project-based, interdisciplinary environments in which they determine the direction of their education.

“Students will customize their course path and project portfolio by asking themselves three questions: 1) What do I want to do now and after graduation?; 2) What do I need to learn, experience and create at Cal Poly so I am prepared to do what I want to do?; 3) What are the STS classes and learning experiences that match my passions and goals?”

Interdisciplinary in nature, the STS minors are designed to complement any Cal Poly major, enhancing each degree and positioning students for future success.

“We want our students to be the best — not only in their first jobs after college, but in their careers. The ability to lead, to be truly transformative, requires more than a high degree of disciplinary knowledge. It requires the ability to work and continue to learn in fast-paced, evolving, high-stakes, interdisciplinary environments,” said Lehr.

“These minors will set you apart for grad school or careers,” she continued. “In any career path, STS graduates will be able to understand and navigate the complex relationships between science, technology and society; bridge diverse disciplines and professions; and work successfully with diverse individuals and communities — they will be empowered to impact the world.”

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