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History of Claremont Colleges STS Program

Since the late 1970s, the field of STS has emerged as an academic discipline in colleges and universities throughout the United States, and since then, dozens of STS programs have been established in undergraduate and graduate institutions. The history of the STS Program at the Claremont Colleges epitomizes the way in which interdisciplinary programs came into existence at Pomona College. In 1982-83, a group of faculty from all the colleges began meeting with a view towards founding a program in the history of science. Following a survey of the entire faculties at the colleges, twenty-two faculty members responded positively; indeed the interest was so broad that the group revised its original plans for a program in history of science to work instead toward establishing a program on Critical Studies of Science and Technology. In 1984, an election for steering committee was held and most of the members elected at that time have gone on to lead the program since. The steering committee participated with the Academic Deans’ Council in obtaining funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for three years of grants of between $20,000 and $30,000 to develop the program. The money was used for grants to faculty in order to develop courses that would count toward the major, to secure release time for faculty to attend and participate in core courses, with a view to attaining enough faculty capable of teaching the core to guarantee that the program would continue smoothly during sabbaticals and other periods when normal staffing was unavailable. Library holdings in basic works were also enhanced with $5000 in each year of the grant.

At the same time, the steering committee was actively engaged with the delicate problem of shaping a curriculum to propose to the five undergraduate colleges. The basic issue was trying to mesh the faculty’s own conception of the field with the constraints that each of the colleges, for its own internal reasons, put upon this strange new creature: an intercollegiate program in a field not widely recognized, bearing on the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and engineering, with no college taking the obvious lead and few faculty with apparently relevant degrees. After some initial setbacks and subsequent negotiations, modifications, and discussion, in spring 1988 the program was approved as a major at Scripps, Pomona, and Pitzer, and as a possible special concentration at Harvey Mudd. The name of the program was changed to Science, Technology, and Society, and the program was available to students beginning in 1988-89. The first senior class of five students graduated with the STS major in 1992. Since then, the number of graduates has remained fairly steady at between two and ten per year. STS has since partnered with other interdisciplinary programs to offer students the option of majoring in STS/Public Policy Analysis or Women’s Studies/STS.  In 2000 a minor in STS began to be offered.

Thanks to sustained efforts by STS faculty at Harvey Mudd College (HMC), one of the most significant recent developments for the STS Program has been the founding of the Hixon Forum for Responsive Science and Engineering at HMC. The goal of this development initiative is to create a center for STS at HMC, centered on a senior professor in STS housed in a technical discipline who oversees an administrative staff, course development funds, high-profile conferences, and physical space. The aim of the forum to develop courses and carry out research that links scientific, technological, ethical, public policy, and other issues in new and innovative ways was envisaged as a way to carry forward the mission of HMC to produce leaders in engineering and science who have a strong understanding of human and social goals. In general terms, it was meant to reaffirm the integration of science and the humanities in the liberal arts setting of the Claremont Colleges.  Among the topics addressed by Hixon Forum workshops of faculty, students, researchers, and practitioners are critical perspectives on digital technology in higher education; social dimensions of design; and the role of science and technology in Chinese society and economy during its recent economic boom.