Engineering and the liberal arts: A powerful alliance for students and society

Dean of Engineering H. Vincent Poor *77 The theme of this issue of EQuad News is engineering and security-but new tools and technology, such as those for securing the Internet and for bringing stability to financial markets, are only part of the story. Like all major problems facing society, the subject of security has many dimensions. The work described here exemplifies how engineering connects to other disciplines and how these combined efforts yield dramatic benefits for both society and students.

Computer scientist Ed Felten directs the Center for Information Technology Policy, which connects engineering and public policy. Electrical engineer Ruby Lee draws students from across campus for her popular course on “Cyber Security.” Civil engineer David Billington ’50 combines scholarship in architecture, history of design and engineering to promote safer, more innovative bridge design. Financial engineers work with economists to develop better methods of understanding and mitigating risk.

I am taking special care to point out this broader context because I hope we will be having many discussions about these connections-and the impact they have-in the coming years. Engineering and projects related to it play a major role in the fundraising campaign that Princeton University launched on Nov. 9. The campaign, appropriately named “Aspire: A Plan for Princeton,” is about not only shaping the best possible education for the 21st century, but also leveraging the great strengths of Princeton to help solve pressing problems around the globe. As a bridge that connects science and society, engineering plays a crucial role in both those ambitions.

It is hard to imagine any major problem facing society that does not have a technological dimension, but it also is hard to think of one that is purely technological. Fortunately, you will not find a university with a more vibrant interplay of arts and sciences, theory and practice, education and research than Princeton.

So how can we best build on that fertile environment? My answer is always that the greatest challenges facing the School of Engineering and Applied Science mirror those of society. How do we improve human health? How can we have a cleaner environment and sustainable energy sources? How can we provide better security? How can we educate leaders who are prepared to deal with these issues in all their complexity?

Our focus in this new campaign will be to make dramatic progress in each of these areas. In doing so, we will also create a stronger university at which engineering is integral to the liberal arts and the liberal arts are integral to engineering.

I hope you will follow our progress closely in the coming years, give us your thoughts, and help support our many exciting initiatives.

H. Vincent Poor *77


  • H. Vincent Poor