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Department Head: Nancy Campbell
Graduate Program Director: Atsushi Akeria
Department Home Page: https://hass.rpi.edu/science-technology-studies
The Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) conducts interdisciplinary teaching and research on the human dimensions of science and technology. The department also provides undergraduate instruction in anthropology, history, political science, and sociology. Department faculty members are drawn from these disciplines and from philosophy and psychology as well as a range of interdisciplinary fields. Wherever individuals work and live, they should understand the ways in which all aspects of society influence, and are influenced by, science and technology. Rather than holding a view that divides science and technology from human values and society, STS recognizes both the social aspects of science and technology and the scientific and technological dimensions of human existence.
Research and Innovation Initiatives
The STS Department is an interconnected community of scholars, activists, and students invested in studying science and technology from multiple perspectives. The strength of the department lies in its intellectual diversity, spanning anthropology, design, geography, history, philosophy, political science, sociology, and social psychology. Theoretical approaches encompass critical policy studies, cognitive sciences, cultural theory, ethics, linguistics/semiotics, political economy, simulation/ethnomathematics, and social theory. Objects of study span the natural, the artificial, and the social worlds. Research within the department has focused on the environment, health, information technology and media, engineering, and design. The STS Department is a place where faculty and students pursue studies of power, gender, race, colonialism, and the interactions between research and activism. This matrix of disciplines, theoretical approaches, objects of study, and topical issues informs the scholarship of the department and creates an open, productive, and collaborative intellectual location from which to explore the multifaceted relationships among science, technology, and human existence.
Rensselaer’s STS Department was among the world’s first to initiate a Science and Technology Studies bachelor of science degree program in 1983. Today, Rensselaer is a leader among educational institutions that grant degrees in the field, and the department offers a range of interdisciplinary programs with intellectual foundations in Science and Technology Studies. Each of the programs below prepares students for life and work in our technoscientific society.
Science, Technology, and Society B.S.
Accelerated Science, Technology, and Society-Law Program (six-year B.S./J.D.)
Sustainability Studies B.S.
Design, Innovation, and Society B.S.
Many students choose a dual major in one of these programs and a more traditional program in engineering, business management, or the sciences. Some graduates will attend professional schools to study corporate or patent law, medicine, policy analysis, or the management of science and technology. Others will use the program to obtain broad exposure in the social sciences and humanities prior to committing to a single discipline for graduate studies. Those entering the job market directly following graduation will find a growing need in non-profits, consulting firms, major corporations, and government agencies for their unique combination of technical competence and conceptual, writing, and speaking abilities. By building an educational foundation upon an understanding of the contemporary technoscientific world, STS students maintain a distinct advantage over traditional liberal arts graduates.
Outcomes of the Undergraduate Curriculum
Students who successfully complete this program will be able to demonstrate:
- an ability to analyze social change as evidenced by the history of science and technology, recognizing uneven distributions of wealth and rights.
- an ability to think critically with respect to contemporary social problems, recognizing the matrix of factors (economic, technical, biophysical, cultural, etc.) that shape problems and constrain solutions.
- an ability to analyze multiple viewpoints and cultural differences, incorporating global perspective and social responsibility.
- an ability to creatively access, interpret, and communicate research resources.
- an ability to apply social science and humanities knowledge to real-world challenges.
The STS Department offers a range of minors with foundations in STS:
Public Health Minor
Science, Technology, and Society Minor
Sustainability Studies Minor
Special Undergraduate Opportunities
Accelerated STS-Law Program
Rensselaer offers a unique program that leads to a B.S. in Science, Technology, and Society and Juris Doctor (J.D.) in six years rather than the usual seven. Students complete the first three years of the program at Rensselaer and the B.S. is conferred following the first year of coursework toward the J.D. Rensselaer has developed relationships with several law programs and has particularly close ties to Albany Law School.
Science, Technology, and Society (STS) is a multidisciplinary social science and humanities degree devoted to critical inquiry about the mutual shaping of science, technology, and society. In the program, students investigate legal and policy issues in areas such as biology and medicine, the environment, information technology, and engineering, while examining how people live, think, and solve problems in different regions of the world.
Students seeking to pursue the Accelerated STS+Law program should apply as an incoming first-year student. Transfer from other Rensselaer curricula to this program is limited to students who have demonstrated academic excellence.
Five Year B.S.-M.S.
A five-year co-terminal B.S.-M.S. program is available for Rensselaer undergraduates who wish to earn a master’s degree in STS. Students must complete the application process by January 30 of their junior year.
The STS Department offers Science and Technology Studies graduate programs leading to the Master of Science and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Fields of inquiry encompass the historical, political, and social dimensions of technological civilization. Faculty from a broad range of disciplines mentor students in learning the conceptual frameworks, research methods, and capacities needed to contribute to forefront scholarship in the service of a more just, democratic, and environmentally sustainable world.
A significant portion of the faculty is interested in environmental sustainability and/or in technological design, but would-be STS scholars of every variety are welcome. Research projects range broadly from ethnomathematics to robotics and other emerging technological risks/opportunities, from feminist and anti-racist theory to the history of computing. Some faculty orient their research explicitly to illuminate and criticize selected facets of contemporary technoscience and the consumer culture it facilitates, while other faculty conduct scholarship with a more purely disciplinary or interdisciplinary focus.
A majority of graduate students in recent years have pursued ethnographic fieldwork as an important component of their dissertations, but there is no formal or informal departmental restriction on acceptable methods and approaches. Many dissertations focus on issues outside the U.S.; the gun culture of Guatemala, the importation of hormone replacement therapy to Turkey, sanitation for the poorest urban dweller in Mumbai. Other graduate students focus on domestic topics, from military communications technologies to organizations opposing mountain top removal in Appalachia. Dissertations based in social movement theory, democratic theory, philosophy of technoscience, public policy, archival research, simulation, discourse analysis, and other methods are considered equally valid.
Courses for all STS curricula are described in the Course Descriptions section of this catalog under the department codes STSH, STSS, and occasionally IHSS. Students often take courses in other departments appropriate to their specific interests.
Campbell, N.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz); drugs and pharmaceutical policy, gender and feminist theory, bioethics, neuroscience.
Kinchy, A.J.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison); sociology, social movements, food and agriculture, environment, politics of biotechnology, expertise.
Akera, A.—Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania); history of scientific and technical computing, history of engineering education, innovation studies.
Malazita, J.—Ph.D. (Drexel University); critical design; games and techno-artistic media; body modification; literature and science.
Velho, R.—Ph.D. (University College London); assistive technologies, disability and society, infrastructure studies, social inclusion/exclusion, transport networks.
Tozzi, C.—Ph.D. (Johns Hopkins University); history of technology, open source software, ethics of computing, military history.
Cardinal, J.—Ph.D. (University of New Mexico); sustainability.
Costelloe-Kuehn, B.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); anthropology of media, science, & the environment.
Moesch, J.—Ph.D. (University of Maryland); design and sustainability.
Schaffer, G.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); waste, labor, alternative technology, and feminist STS.
Caporael, L.R.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara); human evolutionary theory; decision making, social psychology, interpersonal dimensions of computing.
*Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2019 Board of Trustees meeting.
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