Jun 25, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2009-2010 
Rensselaer Catalog 2009-2010 [Archived Catalog]

Science and Technology Studies

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Head: Sharon Anderson-Gold

Undergraduate Adviser: Sara Feathers

Director of Graduate Programs: Edward Woodhouse

Director Professional EEVP Master’s Program:
David Hess

Department Home Page:

The Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) conducts interdisciplinary teaching and research on the social aspects 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 as well as from philosophy and psychology. Wherever individuals work and live, they must understand the ways in which all aspects of society influence, and are influenced by, science and technology. Rather than holding a divided view of science and technology verses human values and society, STS recognizes both the human dimensions of science and technology, and the scientific and technological dimensions of human existence.

Research and Innovation Initiatives

The Science and Technology Studies Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is an interconnected network of scholars, activists, and students invested in studying science and technology from multiple perspectives. The strength of the department lies in its intellectual diversity. The department has faculty members trained in and students studying the traditional disciplines of 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 range from the material to artificial worlds. Research within the department has focused on the environment, health, information technology, engineering, and design. The Science and Technology Studies 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 inform the scholarship of the department and creates an open, productive, and collaborative intellectual location from which to engage in exploring the multifaceted relationships among science, technology, and human existence.

Undergraduate Programs

The Department of Science and Technology Studies initiated a bachelor of science degree program in the 1985–86 academic year. Rensselaer is a leader among the many American colleges and universities that grant degrees in the field. The STS degree program—Science, Technology, and Society (STS)—is a liberal arts program that prepares students for life and work in a technoscience-based society. Many STS majors choose a dual major in management, science, or engineering. 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 the M.S. or Ph.D. Those entering the job market directly following graduation will find a growing need in consulting firms, major corporations, and government agencies for their unique combination of technical competence and conceptual, writing, and speaking abilities. The Rensselaer STS graduate, therefore, has a distinct advantage over other liberal arts graduates.

Dual Major Programs

Many STS majors choose to fulfill the requirements for a second major. For example, a pre-med student pursuing the medicine, biology, and public health concentration within the STS major may pursue a dual major with biology, or an STS major pursuing the engineering, information technology, and design concentration may pursue a dual major with engineering, computer science, or information technology. There are dozens of other dual major possibilities. There are also interdisciplinary dual major programs that have been specially developed for STS majors.

For those students who are interested in a degree that emphasizes both science and technology and environmental issues there is an opportunity to pursue a dual major in Economics and Science, Technology and Society. This combination of majors combines the best of both departments – economic analysis and a broader humanities and social science analysis that emphasize the roles science and technology play in today’s global economy and culture. For more information on this area of study, please contact David Hess at hessd@rpi.edu.

Minor Programs

The STS department offers a minor in STS. In addition, STS administers minors in several traditional H&SS disciplines; interdepartmental minors in Ecological Economics, Values, and Policy (EEVP); Gender, Science, and Technology; Sustainable Studies; and the Interschool Minor in Energy. These minors are described below. Requirements for a minor include a total of at least 16 credit hours, eight of which must be at the 4000 level. No Pass/Fail courses may be applied to a minor, and only one transfer or AP course may count for four to six credits. For further information on forming a minor, see the departmental adviser.

Special Undergraduate Opportunities

Accelerated STS-Law Program

In cooperation with Albany Law School and Columbia University Law School, Rensselaer offers a unique program leading to the B.S. and Juris Doctor (J.D.) in six years rather than the usual seven. Admission to this program is restricted. For Albany Law School, most students are admitted as incoming first-year students. Selected applicants must meet the admission requirements of Albany Law School of Union University. Thus a prospective STS-law student may be able to assure admission to law school prior to beginning an undergraduate career at Rensselaer. Transfer from other Rensselaer curricula to this program is limited to students who have demonstrated academic excellence.

Although guaranteed admission to Albany Law School is only available to selected first-year students, conditional admission is available to accepted Rensselaer students who meet specified achievement levels in their undergraduate program. In addition Rensselaer has established a working relationship with Columbia University Law School that allows an especially gifted STS-law student to become a candidate for admission after his or her third year at Rensselaer, if nominated by a committee within the STS Department. Rensselaer’s inclusion in Columbia’s Accelerated Interdisciplinary Legal Education Program (AILE) has made this opportunity possible. Accelerated Law students have also applied successfully to such law schools as Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, and the University of Virginia for early admission. The STS Department provides whatever assistance possible for such students. Students should notify the STS undergraduate adviser before the end of the sophomore year to inform him that they wish to be nominated.

Five Year B.S.-M.S.
A five-year combined B.S.-M.S. program is available for Rensselaer undergraduates who wish to earn a graduate degree in STS. Students may apply to the program on completion of their sophomore year.

Graduate Programs

Rensselaer’s Department of Science and Technology Studies is one of the few such departments in the world to offer STS degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctoral level. Graduate programs lead to the Master of Science and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Science and Technology Studies. Rensselaer is committed to developing STS as a field of inquiry emphasizing the historical, political, and social dimensions of our technological society. The diverse STS faculty, drawn from a broad range of academic disciplines, provides students with the concepts and methods necessary to develop an integrated understanding of the culture’s technological and human elements.

STS faculty and graduate students are involved in a variety of research projects. Topics include careers of technical professionals, the ethnography of science, history of medicine and the role of quantification, and the nature of scientific inquiry. Additional research efforts focus on gender and reproductive technology; science, psychiatry, and religion; the politics of technological design; community impact of technological change; the impact of scientific instruments; science/government relations; and ethics and values in science and engineering.

Master’s Programs

The STS Department offers several master of science degree options, all of which are described in detail in the programs.

Doctoral Programs

The STS Department’s doctor of philosophy program trains professionals for stewardship of the complex technological society as researchers, teachers, planners, and advisers in academic, government, and private institutions.

Course Descriptions

Courses related to all STS curricula are described in the Course Descriptions section of this catalog under the department codes STSH or STSS. Students in these programs often take courses in other Institute departments appropriate to their specific interests.

Faculty *


Anderson-Gold, S.—Ph.D. (New School for Social Research); ethics, social and political philosophy, history of philosophy.

Caporael, L.R.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara); evolutionary theory; decision making, interpersonal dimensions of computing.

Hess, D.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); science, technology, and communities; sustainability and health.

Layne, L.—Ph.D. (Princeton University); medicine and culture, new reproductive technologies, popular images of nature, feminist methods.

Restivo, S.—Ph.D. (Michigan State University); sociology of science, sociological theory.

Winner, L.
—Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley); political theory, politics of technology.

Woodhouse, E.J.—Ph.D. (Yale University); policy of science and technology, decision making.

Associate Professors 

Akera, A.—Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania); history of scientific and technical computing, history of engineering education, innovation studies.

Breyman, S.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara); political economy of environment, science, and society.

Campbell, N.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz); drugs and pharmaceutical policy, women and health, women’s studies.

Eglash, R.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz); African studies, anthropology, black history, cybernetics and virtual communities, math and science education.

Fortun, K.—Ph.D. (Rice University); international politics, environmentalism, and the law.

Fortun, M.—Ph.D. (Harvard University); historical and ethnographic studies of genomics, biotechnology of life sciences, critical scientific literacy.

Fouche, R.
—Ph.D. (Cornell University); history of American technology, theories of race and racism, African-American studies, invention, design, and intellectual property.

Assistant Professors

Kinchy, A.J.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison); sociology, social movements, food and agriculture, environment, politics of biotechnology, expertise.

Nieusma, D.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); technological sustainability and development; interdisciplinary design pedagogy.

Masacarenhas, M.—Ph.D. (Michigan State University); environmental racism and environmental justice, science and technology studies, political economy, and development and globalization.

Adjunct Assistant Professors

Montgomery-Rinehart, L.—M.A. (Binghamton University-SUNY); political anthropology, applied anthropology, voluntary assocations, identity gender, Sub-Saharan Africa.

Swearingen, J.—Ph.D. (University of Chicago); east Asian history, modern European history, international relations.

*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 2009 Board of Trustees meeting.

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