STS Program: Goals and Objectives
The field of Science, Technology, and Society (or Science and Technology Studies; STS) is an increasingly important and independent field of inquiry. Vassar was and is a pioneer in this field, establishing one of the first undergraduate STS programs in 1973. The particulars of the scientific and technological issues have changed over the succeeding decades, and the richness of social and political analysis of these fields has expanded as well. Within this context of offering a multidisciplinary perspective on complex and rapidly changing areas of inquiry, the program strives 1) to understand better the central role of science and technology in contemporary society; 2) to consider the social, political, philosophical, and cultural implications of human experience in a technological society; and 3) to explore possible directions of future development, using alternative social theories and perceptions.
The program offers students at all levels the opportunity to explore intersections among fields of inquiry that traditionally have been separated into different curricular divisions. When asked to reflect on their experiences at Vassar and beyond, graduates have defined the Program's strengths as "the emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches to problems; the integration of the sciences, humanities, and social sciences; the emphasis on critical thinking; and the ability to evaluate problems from a variety of angles."For both majors and non-majors, the program's goals include examining the intersections, inter-relationships, and synergies between science, technology and society. With the exception of the thesis and senior seminar, STS courses have high enrolments of non-majors. All of these courses provide serious engagement with the relevant scientific and/or technological fields, while also introducing students to the multidisciplinary contexts in which these fields are situated. Students who enroll in these courses include science majors who want to think more broadly about the work they are doing in their traditional science courses; social-science and humanities majors who want to link their own fields of study to the sciences or who are not ready to commit themselves to full laboratory-based study; and undeclared students who are looking to make connections between disciplines as they explore the many areas of Vassar's curriculum.
STS offers several 100-level courses, including both full-semester and six-week courses. The program also offers 200- and 300- level courses, in addition to co-offering several courses cross-listed with departments such as anthropology, chemistry, philosophy, and sociology. Faculty actively encourage students with different backgrounds to enroll in their STS courses, especially those that originate in the program. This intellectual diversity enriches the class discussions and engagement for both students and faculty.
The program offers courses at all levels of the curriculum. All are designed to meet the goals articulated above. 100-level courses serve as case studies in multidisciplinary examination of the interaction of science, technology, and society. These courses address contemporary issues to a broad range of students and thus have no prerequisites. Aside from the senior thesis and seminar, the one course required for majors is STS 200, Introduction to Science and Technology Studies. This team-taught course introduces students to the multidisciplinary study of science and technology through a close reading of several classic texts that inform the field and through an introduction to the areas of current scholarly study and debate.
Most of the other 200-level courses that may count toward the major are those cross-listed from other departments. As a result, prerequisites and levels of depth and breadth vary somewhat. Because it is impossible for the program to insert prerequisites in another department's courses, the advising process insures, as much as possible, that students have taken STS 200 and the appropriate 100-level courses, particularly in the sciences, before doing 200-level work.
The 300-level courses offered by the program and nearly all of those cross-listed from other departments are seminars intended for juniors and seniors. In these courses, students must research an issue in depth and present the results in an extended paper and an oral presentation.
The senior exercise is the thesis and senior seminar. During the first semester, majors propose, research, and write a draft of a thesis on a topic that takes a multidisciplinary approach to a topic relevant to STS. In the senior seminar, held during the first weeks of the second semester, each student must make an oral presentation of his or her thesis and defend the written draft before the rest of the senior majors and several STS faculty. Seniors submit final revised thesis at the end of the second semester.