Engineering doesn’t usually spring to mind when considering a liberal arts education, but students at Kenyon are finding a host of opportunities to learn the mechanics of the field.
Lizzie Halper ’14 first realized she was passionate about computer science in high school. She took advantage of Kenyon’s engineering partnership program and spent three years majoring in math with a computer science concentration and two years earning a Bachelor’s computer science degree at Washington University in Saint Louis, Mo. Halper found herself at an advantage over other students from big, technical-based institutes when she took her first steps into the world of engineering at Washington University.
“In order to solve the problems we tackled in class, we needed to take a creative approach — the kind that is highly valued at Kenyon,” Halper said.
Now, she’s starting out as a technical support engineer for Microsoft at their headquarters in Redmond, Wash.
Though Kenyon may not have the facilities and research opportunities of larger schools, the College maintains long-standing partnerships with engineering programs at Washington University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Under this dual-degree program, also known as the 3-2 program, Kenyon students are guaranteed admission to the partner school of their choosing as long as they meet requirements such as a 3.2 GPA, one year of physics with labs and proficiency in computer programming.
After graduating from Kenyon — students can choose either three or four years in Gambier, though most tend to stay all four years for the full Kenyon experience — and spending the next two years at the partner institution, students earn both a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon and a Bachelor of Sciences from the partner school.
Professor of Physics Tim Sullivan has advised students seeking more training in engineering as the college’s Pre-Engineering Advisor. As the liaison between the College and their partner institutions, he said the feedback on Kenyon students in their programs is very positive. “They really like the combination of the liberal arts with engineering,” he said. “It produces engineers who communicate better and tend to have better leadership skills, so they tend to become leaders in engineering.” With Kenyon’s small class sizes and close interpersonal relationships, students learn not only the subject matter, but how to solve complex problems creatively and communicate effectively.
Physics major Ryan Angelo ’17 interned with Jacob’s Engineering in Philadelphia this summer aiming to earn a letter of recommendation for the College’s partnership program with Washington University, but he came away with a job offer instead. The Fortune 500 company offers technical professional services in a variety of engineering fields, from mechanical, to electrical, to process engineering.
Going into his internship, Angelo had no idea what process engineering was. Process engineering involves the mixing of thousands of liters of pharmaceutical drugs in huge canisters, and Angelo had to teach himself about the machinery, processes and thermodynamics of the systems the company was using. He attributes his success to his Kenyon physics experience, which he said made him learn how to teach himself.
“I impressed [my manager] in my ability to take something with very little background knowledge, teach myself about it, realize what he was asking me to learn and come back to him with knowledgeable questions,” he said.
For Angelo, this approach to problem solving was nothing new from his physics classes at Kenyon. In classes, he explained, “they give you a problem, they give you a week, a couple days to work at it, and if you’ve got any questions, come ask them. You just kind of work on it on your own and there’s more than one way to go about a problem.” Angelo he found he received more difficult work than his fellow interns from big engineering universities.
“They were just given busy engineering work, like just double-checking someone else’s work, and because I didn’t know all the details, they just kind of had to give me real work, and that let me show what I could do,” he said. This “real work” involves the business side of running the company, like communicating with machinery vendors and pharmaceutical companies. “The work that [my manager] was giving me — he was expecting it to be very, very difficult, and for me it just felt like another normal day,”
As it turns out, the claims that a liberal arts education gives little proffesional preparation is false. When it comes to engineering, it seems to give a pretty strong foundation.