Washington and Lee is proud of its engineering program, of what it is able to provide for the students who choose it, and of the success of its graduates in a wide variety of fields. Washington and Lee, however, is not the kind of school typically chosen for training in engineering. It is rare that a small university, emphasizing the liberal arts, offers a program in engineering.
W&L’s degrees in engineering differ from those offered by large engineering schools in the general education requirements common to all majors at Washington and Lee. These requirements represent an added dimension to our degrees—a dimension that is unique and valuable.
RIGOROUS ENGINEERING CURRICULUM - First and foremost, our graduates are broadly-educated individuals with a strong background in basic engineering science. Courses required for the engineering degrees at W&L are the same as core courses required for any engineering degree at larger, more traditional engineering schools: introductory physics, mathematics through differential equations, statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, materials, solid mechanics and circuits. Additionally, W&L students satisfy their degree requirements through the selection of elective courses in chemistry, computer science, engineering, geology, mathematics and physics.
Students have the opportunity to participate in an independent research project where, under the direction of a faculty member, they undertake a particular engineering project involving reading, laboratory or field work and presentation of findings. The low faculty-to-student ratio at W&L makes possible these projects, which provide valuable experience for students who hope to continue studies in graduate school.
Our students who subsequently seek graduate engineering degrees at other institutions have found themselves well prepared and competitive with their peers. Recent graduates have attended graduate school in engineering at institutions such as Columbia, Duke, Georgia Tech, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, Rensselaer, Rutgers, Stanford, University of California at San Diego, University of Connecticut, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, University of Washington, and Virginia Tech.
Those students who go directly into technical or engineering employment have found the liberal arts aspect of their background an asset in finding an initial position. This broad background also enables direct entry into management or sales, where graduates are able to contribute quickly and significantly to their jobs.
THE BENEFIT OF LIBERAL ARTS COURSES - The required liberal arts component of any Washington and Lee degree is as important to an engineering major as to one who might seek a philosophy degree. The intangible benefit stated by the W&L catalogue—“to encourage originality and creativity and to nurture all the qualities of a liberally educated mind, among them intellectual curiosity and unbiased judgment, critical and analytical power, clarity of thought and precision of language, patience and desire to understand the world in which we live”—enhances the quality of life, regardless of one’s interests or field of endeavor.
A more specific, pragmatic benefit also may accrue to holders of a W&L engineering degree. Many scientific and technology employers choose their managers from within the ranks of their technical personnel. The decision to promote someone from a technical post into management is based on more than purely technical abilities. Oral and written communication skills, as well as familiarity with and appreciation for values beyond the confines of science and math, are often the deciding factors in such a promotion decision. Engineering schools are now becoming aware of the need for a more liberal component of an engineering education. A strong liberal arts component has been a part of our engineering program for more than 100 years.
MAKING A DECISION - It is more often the exception than the rule that students about to enter college have decided upon the careers that they will pursue during their working lives. Engineering is a particularly hard choice to make at this stage, since preparation at the high-school level seldom gives the opportunity to study engineering subjects, or even to see what it is that engineers do.
The engineering program at Washington and Lee is integrated with the College of Arts and Sciences and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics and therefore gives an entering student the opportunity simultaneously to choose courses in engineering and in many other areas of the undergraduate curriculum. This juxtaposition provides appropriate information and time for making a wise and fruitful career choice. This is in contrast with the situation at many other institutions where a choice of college, or a choice of school within a university, is a commitment to a field of study even before the freshman year has begun. If, at this stage of your education, engineering is among (but not alone among) those courses of study you would like to consider, W&L can serve you well.
The flexibility of our engineering program has also allowed some students to combine engineering and other disciplines. Double majors with physics, mathematics, computer science, and other scientific disciplines are quite possible. Engineering has been combined with a pre-law program or with a Williams School major. More unusual combinations—for example, engineering and art by a student now doing theatrical set design—have also been merged successfully.