Practice Papers

Document Type

Conference Paper


The Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies program (LAES) is a hybrid engineering and humanities degree housed in both the engineering and liberal arts colleges. LAES requires the same required math and science courses of standard engineering degrees, adding upper-level concentrations split equally between advanced engineering and humanities courses.

LAES was designed for retaining and recruiting a diversity of students in engineering, and to address recent innovations in industrial practice, technology design, and community-centered education. Through fifteen years of trial and error, the LAES program has developed a set of meaning-filled design guidelines for project work, combining engineering and humanistic problem solving with sustainable environmental practice integrated throughout every aspect of design, production, and use. In partnership with many departments across campus, especially Cal Poly’s architecture program, LAES has worked on many projects that exist within the complex economic, political, social, spatial, and cultural needs of local communities.

LAES projects in collaboration with architecture students, have ranged from community housing construction with re-purposed shipping containers, to re-designing pedestrian neighborhood corridors, to the use of narrative-driven STEM education modules with underserved middle school students, to the design of immersive-reality explorations of artificial coral ecologies off the coast of California.

In this paper, we review what we have learned from our project work, with a focus on student learning assessment, leadership training, working across disciplines, and teamwork management, demonstrating how those practical academic concerns interact with the instruction of our design principles. We conclude by offering practical recommendations for how other programs may use some of our design guidelines and project ideas within their own curriculums.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.