Program in Technology and Society

Academic Unit

Program Information

One would be hard-pressed to find any aspect of society today that is not influenced by evolving technology in a significant way. Similarly, technology does not develop in a vacuum; by virtue of its applied nature, it is shaped by the needs and desires of individuals and the societies in which they live. Society and technology co-evolve, so that you cannot fully understand one without knowing something about the other. This cross-disciplinary certificate program is targeted to students, both engineers/scientists and humanists/social-scientists, who are interested in exploring this intersection in depth. Graduates who earn this certificate will be effective contributors to the shaping, development and deployment of technological solutions for the benefit of society.

The intersection of technology and society is broad touching on a wide range of technologies and on a variety of societal issues and concerns. To ensure depth, individual programs of study are offered along two technology tracks: Information Technology and Energy.

The Information Technology track is offered in partnership between the Keller Center and the Center for Information Technology Policy. Information technology (IT) broadly covers the computation and communication technologies that permeate virtually all aspects of corporate and social activity. The products and services enabled by it have had a major impact on the world economy and on social interactions. As we look to the future, emerging technologies in IT continue to address critical societal challenges such as economic development, health care, politics, education, productivity, government and social organization. At the same time, these technologies raise new challenges in security, law enforcement, privacy, economic stability and justice.

The Energy track is offered in partnership between the Keller Center and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. Provision and use of energy and natural resources in a sustainable way is the single biggest challenge for Americans and citizens of the world to preserve the planet for future generations. Our economic and national security as well as our overall ability to thrive as a society depends on fulfilling these foundational responsibilities. Population growth and the increasing desire of those who live in developing countries to live on par with those in developed countries are causing unprecedented demands for energy. How to meet these needs while protecting the environment is one of the most pressing challenges of our times. These problems are complex and intertwined, involving not only a need for advances in science and engineering, but also requiring changes in human behavior, economic analyses, and thoughtful policy.

Admission to the Program

The Program in Technology and Society is open to all undergraduate students.  Students interested in pursuing the certificate program should complete the enrollment form and indicate whether they are interested in the Information Technology Track or the Energy Track. 

Program of Study

The program provides a focus on technology (Information Technology or Energy) and society. An introductory gateway course Technology and Society (EGR/HIS/SOC 277) provides exposure to a broad set of issues at the intersection of technology and society. Following the introductory course, students study both the technological and societal aspects, which is critical to acquiring a good understanding of the disciplinary aspects of both sides of the issues that come up at this intersection. On the technology side, there is a rich set of courses in IT and Energy areas that have been designed to be accessible to all students on campus and that place the technical material in a broader application context. Similarly, on the societal side, technology issues are part of important courses in several departments such as Sociology and the Woodrow Wilson School. Finally, students need to conduct research on a specific issue through a one-term project with a subsequent written component (junior paper/thesis component) as well as a presentation at a program symposium.

Program Requirements

The following requirements need to be satisfied to earn the program certificate: core course, two technology courses, two societal courses, one breadth course, one-term independent research project, present project/thesis to the program students and faculty at an annual symposium. Pass/D/Fail policy: Students may use no more than one course taken on a Pass/D/Fail basis to satisfy program requirements.

Core Course. Technology and Society (EGR 277/HIS 277/SOC 277). This course provides students with the intellectual tools needed to approach the rest of the program -- a "set of lenses" that will help them view the issues being addressed in their work. Ideally, this course will be taken before the other required courses.

Technology and Society Courses (4 courses). This course requirement is intended to provide an understanding of the technology and societal aspects through a discipline-based study of both sides. Students must select either the Information Technology track or the Energy track and take the technology and societal courses from the respective list of courses.

Technology Courses. Each student is required to take two technology courses from a list that includes the courses below. These courses are mostly drawn from a set that includes courses specifically designed for a wider campus audience (no prerequisites). An advanced/one-time-only course may be used to replace one or both of these courses with the permission of the program adviser.

Societal Courses. Each student is required to take two societal courses from a list that includes the courses below. An advanced/one-time-only course may be used to replace one or both of these courses with the permission of the program adviser.

Breadth Course (1 course). In addition to the technology and society courses, each student is required to take one course that combines technology and society in an area outside their chosen track. For engineering/science students this should be based in the societal disciplines, and for humanities and social science students this should be based in the science/technology disciplines. Students must select either the Information Technology track or the Energy track and take the technology or societal breadth course from the respective list of courses.

Students interested in pursuing the Information Technology track should consult the CITP website for the current list of approved courses.

Students interested in pursuing the Energy track should consult the ACEE website for the current list of approved courses.

Annual Symposium. Students are required to present their projects/theses to the program students and faculty at an annual symposium. This provides a mechanism for shared learning as well as for developing the common themes across the program.

Independent Work

All students are required to undertake a one-term independent research project in IT or Energy and society. For A.B. students, this includes a junior paper. This may be substituted by a significant component in their senior thesis (at least a chapter). It is expected that some of these projects/theses will be jointly supervised by faculty members across the University divisions. The project/thesis component requires preapproval of the student's program adviser.

Certificate of Proficiency

Students who fulfill the requirements of the program receive a certificate of proficiency in technology and society upon graduation.