May 28, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2016-2017 
Rensselaer Catalog 2016-2017 [Archived Catalog]

School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

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Dean: Mary H. Simoni

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs: Michael J. Kalsher

Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research: Nancy D. Campbell

School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Home Page:

In an historic technological institution, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) offers exciting new research and educational possibilities aligned with Rensselaer’s vision of the New Polytechnic Institute. The School’s five departments offer innovative and interdisciplinary programs of study at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The undergraduate programs include: majors in humanities, social science, and arts disciplines; collaborations and dual majors for students of all schools; and a core curriculum that is a common element in the course of study for all Rensselaer students. The graduate programs in HASS offer unique opportunities for study of the technological world, its impact on society, and its potential contributions to social, cultural, and artistic goals. All HASS students have a broad choice of electives representing Rensselaer’s global vision and commitment to personal excellence through new studies in arts, communications, and culture as well as to the traditional areas of liberal arts and social sciences.

HASS programs at Rensselaer give every student close contact with outstanding faculty members. Those faculty—scholars and practitioners themselves—create programs that are distinctive for research applications at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students also have access to field work and studio experiences, internships and professional co-op opportunities, electronic laboratories and computer facilities, and, above all, opportunities to cross boundaries and to develop new interdisciplinary projects. These programs integrate the intellectual depth and the practical experience needed for leadership careers in business, non-profit corporations, government and government-related organizations, higher education, and arts. HASS students not only participate in the technological world: they create it, and they shape it.

Undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered in five degree granting departments, including Arts; Cognitive Science; Communication and Media; Economics; and Science and Technology Studies. In addition, students can major in interdisciplinary programs that integrate scientific and technical tools with the arts, social sciences, communication, and the humanities. These include Electronic Media; Arts; and Communication (EMAC); Design; Innovation and Society (DSIS); and Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS).

Degrees Offered and Associated Departments

B.S. Electronic Arts
MFA Electronic Arts
Ph.D. Electronic Arts

B.S. Cognitive Science
M.S. Cognitive Science
Ph.D. Cognitive Science
B.S. Philosophy
B.S. Psychology

B.S. Communication and Media
B.S. Electronic Media, Arts and Communication 
M.S. Communication and Rhetoric
Ph.D. Communication and Rhetoric

B.S. Economics
M.S. Economics
Ph.D. Economics

B.S. Science, Technology, and Society
B.S. Sustainability Studies
B.S. Design, Innovation, and Society
M.S. Science and Technology Studies
Ph.D. Science and Technology Studies

B.S. Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication
B.S. Design, Innovation, and Society
B.S. Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences

Overview of Undergraduate Programs

In addition, a number of interdisciplinary programs are also available. These programs are offered jointly between two or more departments within the school or with other Institute schools. HASS interdisciplinary degree programs include the following, all of which are explained in greater detail under the heading Interdisciplinary Programs and Research at the end of the HASS section of this catalog.

  • Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication (EMAC) is an innovative program that combines theory and practice through electronic media arts studio and theory courses.
  • Design, Innovation, and Society (DSIS) is an innovative design program combining socil, technical, business, and creative dimensions.
  • Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS) is an innovative, second generation game development program that integrates arts, cognitive science, communication and media, computer science, human-computer interaction, and management.

In all curriculum areas, HASS strives to provide flexibility whenever possible. As part of this effort, the School offers the Independent Study Program, which fills specialized educational needs in areas that regular departmental offerings do not adequately serve. Independent Study is an individualized reading or research program that a student proposes to a faculty member whose expertise covers a specific area of interest. Students interested in Independent Study must meet a number of conditions including:

  • Demonstration of an ability to work independently as well as completion of the prerequisites needed to undertake the project successfully.
  • Evidence that no equivalent course is available at Rensselaer or at any of the consortium institutions in the Capital District or that the student is unable to schedule such a course due to unusual curricular demands.
  • The faculty member has sufficient time to supervise the proposed course of study.
  • Development of a written agreement spelling out the scope of the work to be done, the expected deliverables, and the evaluation criteria to be applied.
  • Provision of a description of the amount of work expected and an understanding that the level at which it is to be completed must be similar to the demands of an equivalent course.
  • The ability of faculty members to place additional constraints on the participation in the Independent Study.

HASS Core Program

As part of their B.S. degree program, all Rensselaer undergraduates take a selection of HASS courses referred to as the HASS core. This core is the foundation of undergraduate education. Through it, students develop the skills necessary for personal and professional success, and they also begin to explore the social and cultural areas of study and issues of debate that are important in the global society of the twenty-first century.

The core consists of 24 credit hours, or six courses distributed to afford students a breadth of perspective across the various disciplines as well as a more in-depth experience in at least one area. Engineering students automatically take two of the 24 credit hours as professional development in their engineering design sequence and take a two-credit HASS professional development course in their junior year.

To ensure breadth in the core courses distrbution requirment, students must select as least two courses (eight credit hours) from each of the lists below.


Humanities   Code   Social Sciences   Code
Foreign Languages
Science and Technology Studies, Humanities
Interdisciplinary Studies

Cognitive Science
Science and Technology Studies, Social Science
Interdisciplinary Studies


IHSS interdisciplinary courses may be counted in either category.

To ensure depth in the HASS core requirement, students must also take at least two courses within a single department area’s code (STSH and STSS can be counted as a single area), at least one of which is taken at an advanced level (above 1000). No course within the depth sequence may be taken as Pass/No Credit.

No more than 12 credit hours of 1000-level HASS courses may be applied toward the HASS core requirement, no more than two courses may be taken as Pass/No credit, and at least one course (four credits) must be at the 4000 level.

Students entering Rensselaer in their first year may transfer up to two HASS courses (up to eight credit hours) toward their HASS core requirement (including Advanced Placement credit).

Transfer students from an accredited collegiate program who have completed at least one college year but who come to Rensselaer with first-year status may qualify for additional core transfers at the discretion of the HASS Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Transfer students entering Rensselaer at the sophomore level or above are not limited in the number of courses they may transfer for HASS core credit. All others must take at least 16 credit hours of their HASS core at Rensselaer.

Enrolled Rensselaer students wishing to take an HASS course for credit at another accredited institution must obtain prior approval for the course from the HASS Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Applicants must furnish a catalog description of the proposed course and syllabus, and a completed copy of Rensselaer’s Transfer Credit Approval form to the HASS Student Services Suite on the 4th floor of the Sage building. A maximum of two courses (up to eight credit hours) of transfers is allowed (including AP courses).

Special Undergraduate Opportunities

Accelerated Prelaw Program – This opportunity is offered within the Department of STS in cooperation with Albany Law School and other law schools. For additional details, see the Science and Technology Studies section of this catalog.

Overview of Graduate Programs

The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences offers both master’s and doctoral level programs. 

Master’s Programs

Within HASS, four types of master’s degrees are available. Among these are 30-credit-hour M.S. degrees, offered within the departments of Communication and Media, Cognitive Science, Economics, and Science and Technology Studies for individuals who are in the Ph.D. programs in these areas.

HASS offers a 60-credit-hour Master of Fine Arts in Electronic Arts through the Arts Department.

Doctoral Programs

Programs leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) are offered in Electronic Arts, Cognitive Science, Ecological Economics, Science and Technology Studies, and Communication and Rhetoric. Individual courses and opportunities for directed study are also available in other areas.

Special Graduate Opportunities

Certificate Programs – The Department of Communication and Media offers a specialization certificate in Graphics.

Interdisciplinary Degree Programs

Few institutions better understand that, in an increasingly complex world, individuals often need a broader range of knowledge than can be obtained through study of a single discipline. As a result, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences has developed a strong selection of multidisciplinary academic and research programs. These programs cross not only disciplines, but allow Rensselaer schools to offer the highest possible degree of multidisciplinary education.

In addition to opportunities in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences described in the Programs section of this catalog, other interdisciplinary programs available at Rensselaer are listed in the Interdisciplinary Studies Index of this catalog and are described fully in the section pertaining to the associated Institute school or division.

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