Science, Technology & Society

The science, technology and society program ensures that undergraduates understand the relationships between technology and society; are equipped to be ethical engineers; and have strong proficiency in written communication. The goal of the program is to educate leaders who bring broad perspectives and essential skills to engineering for social good.

As a field, STS is concerned with understanding how people create new knowledge and new devices and how these activities are shaped by political, economic, and social forces. To do so, STS experts look at technology and society together—without privileging one over the other—and they draw on concepts from across the humanities and social sciences, including history, philosophy, literature, psychology, and anthropology. Through their research and teaching, STS scholars view technology as being multifaceted and complicated, and as a highly significant element of the human experience.

At UVA, the mission of the STS program is to empower and motivate the next generation of engineering professionals so that they are capable of making creative, ethical, and inspired contributions to the design of our socio-technical future. The Program does so by combining instruction in STS concepts with the development of student skills in research, critical thinking, and communication (both written and oral). The Program prides itself on producing professionals who are articulate and reflective, and hence fully prepared to participate in transformative engineering work for the world.

Notably, the UVA STS program is the only STS program in the U.S. situated within an engineering school at a national, comprehensive university. STS programs at peer institutions like MIT, Cornell, and Stanford are housed in the colleges of humanities and social sciences. Faculty in the UVA Program are close to the point of the knowledge production that they study while at the same time they are partners in engineering education. As a result, the STS program at UVA is unique in the way that it integrates a deep understanding of technology with broad perspectives about society and culture.

A Student Perspective

What is STS?

Students and faculty explain UVA Engineering’s science, technology and society program.

  • Requirements

    All UVa undergraduate engineers are required to take at least four STS classes:

    1. STS 1500: Science, Technology, and Contemporary Issues
    2. One 2000 or 3000 level STS class
    3. STS 4500: STS and Engineering Practice
    4. STS 4600: The Engineer, Ethics, and Professional Responsibility

    STS 1500 is taken in the first year, after which students can elect to take their 2000 or 3000 level STS class either their second or third year. The sequence of STS 4500 and STS 4600 is taken in the fourth year of study in order to guide students through their senior thesis.

  • Curriculum

    STS 1500 provides first-year engineering students with an introduction to important concepts in the field of Science, Technology, and Society. This course is designed to strengthen writing and speaking skills with special attention to the challenges of professional communication in engineering and applied science. The course also familiarizes students with the engineering profession, engineering ethics, and the social issues of professional engineering practice.

    STS courses at the 2000 and 3000 level examine the social and ethical issues of science and technology from humanities and social science perspectives. Each focuses on a topic area, such as Thomas Jefferson’s interests in science and technology. Although writing and speaking skills continue to be stressed in these courses, the focus shifts from skills to the course’s content and the broader objective of improving students’ grasp of the social and ethical issues of science and technology.

    Students in the fourth year enroll in a two-semester sequence, STS 4500: STS and Engineering Practice and STS 4600: The Engineer, Ethics, and Professional Responsibility. This sequence combines focused study of the social, ethical, and professional issues of engineering and technology with the research and writing of the Undergraduate Thesis.

    The Undergraduate Record represents the official repository for academic program requirements.

    Be sure to check SIS for courses offered for a particular semester.

  • Minors and Other Opportunities

    History of Science and Technology Minor - In conjunction with the History Department, the Science, Technology, and Society program offers a minor in the history of technology and science. Open to all University undergraduates, this minor provides students with an opportunity to become familiar with humanistic perspectives of technology and science. For the engineering student, the minor offers an occasion for placing his or her professional education in a larger social and intellectual context; likewise, it provides the liberal arts student with a better understanding of science and technology as key components in human culture. Click here for more information. The minor consists of 18 credits. College students may include the non-College courses as general electives upon completion of the requirements for the minor. The list of eligible courses and requirements can be obtained from the Department of Engineering & Society.

    Science and Technology Policy Minor - Students completing this minor will gain a deeper understanding of the interdependence of science, technology, engineering, and policy. They will also prepare themselves to lead organizations inside and outside of government, including those in industry, consulting, law, and medicine. It requires 18 credits. Along with core courses in politics and economics, all students take a course in science and technology policy designed for this minor. Three electives--from fields such as history, philosophy, and planning as well as politics and economics—deepen and broaden students’ education.

  • Undergraduate Thesis

    In the fourth or fifth year of study, undergraduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia undertake a research project called the undergraduate thesis. The undergraduate thesis project is designed to give students firsthand experience with the communication of technical information, the ideas and values that shape technology, the role of individuals and organizations in innovation, the role of technology in solving problems, the impact of technology on society, the ethical issues in engineering, the way personal values are expressed in professional choices and activities, and the management over time of a major project involving a variety of resources.

    The projects are normally in a field of study appropriate to students’ career interests in engineering or applied science. Students receive guidance on how to organize their projects and in preparing written and oral reports on their research by taking a two-course sequence, STS 4500 and STS 4600 (formerly numbered as 401/402 and 4010/4020). Each thesis is reviewed and approved by a technical advisor from the students’ major department and by the students’ 4500 and 4600 professors.

    Over the two courses, the undergraduate thesis project serves as a case study in a range of cultural and ethical issues. In STS 4500, students step back and consider the broader context of technology and science, and what constitutes scientific and technological progress, focusing especially on ethical and cultural dimensions. In STS 4600, students are encouraged to develop an understanding of the engineer’s role in society and the role of ethical issues and ideals in engineering. The engineering thesis is used as the particular focus for the issues raised in these classes.

    Visit the UVA Library Science, Technology and Society page for a guide to research support for STS classes. For more information contact Associate Professor Rider Foley.

  • Faculty

    Robert "Rob" Archer, Science, Technology, & Society
    Catherine Baritaud, Science, Technology, & Society
    Rosalyn W. Berne, Science, Technology, & Society (Department Chair)
    James "Jim" Su-ting Cheng, Science, Technology, & Society
    Joshua V. Earle, Science, Technology, & Society
    Rider W. Foley, Science, Technology, & Society
    MC Forelle, Science, Technology, & Society 
    James F. Groves, Science, Technology, & Society
    Richard D. Jacques, Science, Technology, & Society
    Benjamin J. Laugelli, Science, Technology, & Society
    Kathryn A. Neeley, Science, Technology, & Society
    Peter D. Norton, Science, Technology, & Society
    Adarsh R. Ramakrishnan, Science, Technology, & Society
    Bryn E. Seabrook, Science, Technology, & Society
    David L. Slutzky, Science, Technology, & Society
    Kent A. Wayland, Science, Technology, & Society
    Caitlin Wylie, Science, Technology, & Society