Like any aspiring engineer, first-year student Meredith Vaughn gets excited about building something from the ground up, so Wake Forest University’s new undergraduate engineering program immediately appealed to her.
In high school, Vaughn focused on vocal performance at Weaver Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, an arts-based magnet in nearby Greensboro, N.C. But she chose to attend Wake Forest because it allows her to pursue her passions across the liberal arts – from STEM to singing.
Vaughn is one of approximately 50 students in Wake Forest’s first cohort of undergraduate engineering students who will begin taking classes at Wake Downtown later this month.
“I want to study engineering and I also want to be in an a cappella group. When I found out that Wake was starting these new programs in engineering and biomedical sciences, I thought, ‘This is perfect.’” Meredith Vaughn (’21)
Combining engineering with liberal arts is not the norm for undergraduate engineering education, but it is the future, said Olga Pierrakos, founding chair of the Department of Engineering.
“Students have multiple interests and multiple identities. Yet, most traditional programs have asked students to take on the engineer’s identity only and not look holistically at one’s self.” Olga Pierrakos, founding chair of the Department of Engineering
“We lose students because we don’t let them express who they are beyond this professional identity,” said Pierrakos, who managed a $100 million portfolio to strengthen STEM education while at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and helped found the engineering program at James Madison University prior to coming to Wake Forest.
Noah Handwerk of Clemmons, N.C., expects the liberal arts foundation of his engineering degree will give him a better understanding of what he is designing. A fan of physics and robotics, he chose Wake Forest for the faculty’s varied backgrounds.
“I’m going to be exposed to a wide variety of engineering fields and studies. That seemed like a great option to me, because I don’t know what I want to specialize in. And I feel like I will have a larger role in the department as one of the first students to go through.” Noah Handwerk ('21)
Wake Forest’s undergraduate engineering program offers several distinctives:
“Students will participate in design challenges to determine the function of the spaces, to design and prototype the furnishings,” Pierrakos said.
“Wake Downtown is a wonderful opportunity to engage with the Wake Forest community, and more strongly to engage with the Winston-Salem community. It’s an open door to community involvement and a very exciting way to operate an undergraduate engineering program.” Olga Pierrakos, founding chair of the Department of Engineering
Upon graduation from Wake Forest, prospective liberal arts engineers like Vaughn will incorporate fundamental knowledge and skills from a variety of disciplines, including the arts, humanities, and social sciences, into engineering practice. Faculty say this breadth and depth of knowledge lead to innovation because the approach to problem finding and problem solving is to integrate diverse knowledge, perspectives and skills – all of which yield a more positive impact on humanity, in keeping with the University’s Pro Humanitate motto.
For now, Vaughn is delighted by the opportunities before her cohort and looks forward to charting her own course. Her current plans include studying biomedical engineering and exploring internships at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
“I really like helping people and solving problems.” Meredith Vaughn ('21)
The group will team-teach all Introduction to Engineering courses offered this fall, giving students a greater opportunity to connect. “They’re going to have all four of us as their advocates and their mentors by the end of year one,” Boatman said.