GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Mission Possible? Teaching Social Sciences to Engineering Students

In Guest Blogger on 2010/04/05 at 09:00

Guest blogger, Aslihan Erkmen, writing from Istanbul, Turkey.

I have been teaching Media and Art History courses to Engineering and Architecture students at a technical university for the past three years. One of the main reasons why I have returned to the academic arena from the private sector was the love of teaching, but I sometimes experience difficulties while teaching social sciences and art to students coming from engineering departments.

Engineering students are taught to search for exact solutions to daily problems related to buildings, machines, electronics, basic sciences, etc. 2+2 is almost always 4 for them and they aim to get to the target without noticing the fantastic stops on their way.

As a social scientist, I usually loved the journey itself no matter how hard it has been. There are always challenges on the way and the aim is to handle them, not to combat them. For engineers, every problem is a pain and the solution is the cure. There are certain rules and challenges in engineering and engineers (or engineer candidates in our case) do not handle them with joy but with seriousness. That’s why the Fine Arts and Humanities Departments work very hard to form interesting and fascinating schedules for the engineering students so as to widen their horizon and fill it with “social” sunshine.

At our university the students have to take 30% of their credits from Humanities and Art courses in order to graduate and they tend to choose the “easier” or “fun” classes like Photography, Film Art, Media and Society, Traditional Arts and Crafts, etc. wishing that the lessons will not be as difficult or demanding as Quantum Mechanics or Architectural Design. Most of them do not have any intention of learning how to take photos or how to make films. The majority of our classes are filled with students who are there just for the credits.

In my first year of teaching the “Media and Society” class, my students were mostly the writers of the student bulletin and they were willing to learn the main rules of Journalism while trying to achieve the basic journalist’s skills. The day of my course was pretty much the most eagerly anticipated day of the week as all of my students used to bring their questions into the classroom waiting to solve the issues. The following year my students were there for credits after hearing how much fun we had during the lessons.

As an idealistic lecturer, I believed that it was my duty to change this attitude and I tried to make them really learn something. I want the new generation to be aware of the beauties of Art, to gain Media Literacy and to try to develop their social skills. Sometimes my efforts work and after a few classes the students get more excited about the topics. Sometimes, the engineer within rises and questions the artistic traditions disregarding the contemporary conditions of the period.

I am still an amateur in teaching, but I am learning from every student in every class. I guess this is my challenge and I am willing to take it.

Aslihan Erkmen

Aslihan Erkmen is currently a Research Assistant at the Fine Arts Department of Istanbul Technical University (ITU) in Turkey. She is at the last stage of completing her Ph.D. on Islamic Art of Painting at the same university. She has her B.A. and M.A. degrees on Public Relations at Marmara University and a second B.A. degree in Art History from Mimar Sinan University in Turkey. She worked in Marketing, Communication and Public Relations fields in the private sector for almost 11 years. After returning to Academia she directed the Media Relations Office of ITU for more than 6 years. Her major interests are Islamic Art of Books, Traditional Turkish Art and Crafts, Sponsorship and Arts Management. She is also the co-organizor of an Art History Symposium that has been held at ITU for 8 years.


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  1. [...] upon previous knowledge, and stretch the bounds of what they are comfortable learning, such as Engineering students taking art. Working in academia allows me to keep building and stretching, to keep striving for a balance of [...]

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