Dean, College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences
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As has become a tradition in our College, today we join together to celebrate our progress and accomplishments, to reaffirm our collective purpose, and to map our future course so that our great College and University may continue to lead the way in educating the leaders of the next century and creating the knowledge that will be required to sustain our civilization and planet.
The critical question facing the academy is whether we are adequately preparing our future engineers, scientists and mathematicians to practice in an era that requires integrated and holistic thinking to solve society's problems, or needlessly limiting their solution spaces to those that contain only technological answers, with scant or passing consideration of the myriad other influencing and dependent factors.
For centuries, society's problems have been sufficiently "Cartesian" to be solved "through the application of math and science," a de facto definition of engineering that has served us well until now.
By many accounts, more than 80 percent of our economy is now information- rather than manufacturing-based. Yet, if one were to peruse an undergraduate engineering curriculum from many typical universities, the result would be courses and structures that would not be significantly different from those offered during the middle of the last century, when we were largely a manufacturing-based economy.
Through pursuing the holistic concept of "unity of knowledge," a definition of education more fitting for the times ahead can be derived. Unity of knowledge, first proposed by James Marsh, president of the University of Vermont in the early 1800s, and later resurrected by Harvard's E.O. Wilson in his relatively recent book, Consilience, is fundamentally about integrating knowledge across disciplines to address the complex problems of our time and best serve humanity.
As the world's population climbs, technology becomes increasingly imbedded in human experience. And as technical challenges become ever more complex, a new kind of practitioner is needed one who can think broadly across disciplines and consider the human dimensions that are at the heart of every design challenge. In the new order, narrow technological thinking will not be enough. UVM is in a unique position to educate this 21st century engineer, mathematician or computer scientist.
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See also: State of the College: 2006