Department of Engineering & Society


STS FOR THE 21st Century Engineer
Understanding the ethical, social, and business dimensions of engineering.

In order to prepare engineers who can do analysis–problem-solving and design, as well as exercise judgment, the E&S Department includes the program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS).

As a field, STS is concerned with understanding how people create new knowledge and new devices and how these activities are shaped by political, economic, and social forces. To do so, STS experts look at technology and society together—without privileging one over the other—and they draw on concepts from across the humanities and social sciences, including history, philosophy, literature, psychology, and anthropology. Through their research and teaching, STS scholars view technology as being multifaceted and complicated, and as a highly significant element of the human experience.

At UVA, the mission of the STS program is to empower and motivate the next generation of engineering professionals so that they are capable of making creative, ethical, and inspired contributions to the design of our socio-technical future. The Program does so by combining instruction in STS concepts with the development of student skills in research, critical thinking, and communication (both written and oral). The Program prides itself on producing professionals who are articulate and reflective, and hence fully prepared to participate in transformative engineering work for the world.

EnginBus_Overview_2 STS courses connect the humanities and social sciences to engineering knowledge and practice. The STS component of the UVA engineering degree ensures that students have seriously considered the moral and social aspects of their future life’s work.

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at

Be sure to check SIS for courses offered for a particular semester.

Instruction in communication for students whose first language is not English. Specialized instruction in academic/content area communication as well as personal expression in a variety of settings will enable students to complete academic programs in a more efficient and timely manner. After completion of STS 1000, students must complete STS 1500 by the end of their first year of residency in the SEAS.
Credits: 3

Introduces the nature of engineering knowledge and practice; the influential role of engineering in shaping the world; and the ways in which social institutions, practices, and values influence engineers’ work. A variety of readings explore these topics. Framed as an introduction to the profession, the course promotes creative and critical thinking as well as the skills needed for communications in engineering practice, including oral presentations, written proposals, technical descriptions, memoranda, and abstracts. Drawing on a range of sources, students also complete a substantial research project that integrates course topics. Credits: 3

This course introduces students to contemporary issues involving science, technology, and engineering as well as the core ideas of STS. Emphasis is on three ideas: a) engineering is a social endeavor; b) technology shapes and is shaped by society; and c) technologies are sociotechnical systems. The course also teaches writing and public speaking, skills needed in engineering.
Credits: 3

Explores key management & business concepts relevant to technology-dependent enterprises. Provides an overview of accounting & finance principles, operations, marketing, leadership, managerial decision-making & communications,& ethics. Engineering students should come away from this course with the knowledge & skills necessary to develop & direct technology in ways that add value to organizations. Count as an elective in the Eng. Business minor.
Credits: 3

Introduces Jefferson’s use of scientific thinking in his major accomplishments and efforts to influence public policy, agriculture, education, invention, architecture, and religion. Readings in his writings, class discussions, guest lectures and field visits to local centers of Jefferson research. Short papers, in-class presentations, and a research paper are required. Prerequisites: STS 1500 or equivalent
Credits: 3

Surveys advances of technological knowledge through the ages. Includes the achievements of Egypt, Greece, and Rome; the beginnings of the concept of a labor-saving device in the middle ages; the technological background of the Industrial Revolution; the recent role of technology in shaping modern society.
Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

Analysis of attitudes toward the problem of the machine and technological advances in modern civilization, as reflected in selected American and European writings and films. Discussions, oral presentations, papers, and a final exam. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

Explores the historical relationship between people and the environment in North America, from colonial times to the present. Topics include the role of culture, economics, politics, and technology in that relationship. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

Lectures, readings, and discussions compare earlier and modern designs of the ideal society, stressing the relationship of their basic technologies to historical reality. Such writers as Plato, Thomas More, and Edward Bellamy are considered. Students give oral presentations, write short papers, and research technological utopias. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

America today is a high-energy society. For over a century, the United States has also wielded vast economic, political, and military power. How do energy sources relate to social, corporate, or political power? This course examines that question across the history of the United States. It draws from political, business, technological, and environmental history to chart the growth, effects, and limits of power in its varied forms. Prerequisites: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

Explores the development of flight from the earliest historical records of peoples’ interest in flying through the achievements of the space age. Emphasizes the social and cultural impacts of flight, advances in technology, and the significance of the contribution of individuals. Guest lectures, film showings, visits to aviation museums, and student reports and projects supplement regular classroom lecture and discussion. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

Explores the history of space flight, from peoples’ earliest interest in rockets through the most recent developments in aerospace technology. Examines the contributions of various scientists, engineers, and inventors to space travel; the major eras of aerospace history and the impacts of U.S. and international space programs on society. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

A study of the impacts of nineteenth-century American industrial development on the community, the worker, and engineering. Students make oral and written presentations, write short papers, and a research paper. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

A historical examination of the role of religion in the early development of technology; technology as a secular substitute for religion; and religious critiques of contemporary technological society. Equal time is spent on lectures, student-led discussions of the readings, and student oral presentations. Short papers and a major research project on a particular denomination’s or congregation’s attitudes toward technology-related issues. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

Surveys how cultures have developed technology from the earliest times to the end of the twentieth century. Includes both western and non-western cultures and explores how different cultures have used technology to produce economic abundance, social order, and cultural meaning. No technical or scientific expertise required. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or an equivalent STS course
Credits: 3

This course invites students to explore the implications of STS core concepts within a specific topical or disciplinary area, drawing out the implications of STS 1500 in depth. The course explores the social and global context of engineering, science and technology. Although writing and speaking skills are emphasized, more attention is given to course content and the students’ analytical abilities. Prerequisites: STS 1500 or an equivalent STS course.
Credits: 3

Examines the development of public policies aimed at promoting and regulating science and technology. Topics include historical evolution of the federal government’s involvement in science policy; the players, organizations, and agencies who make science policy; the reasons the government funds the research it does; how science and technology is regulated by the government. Prerequisites: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

This course will provide engineers with an introduction to all facets of marketing, including creating compelling brands, working with media, and the role of product marketing. Students will also learn how the principles of marketing are applied in a variety of roles, such as personal brands in consulting and products within large companies.
Credits: 3

This course will not only teach the key components of doing a transaction but also the skills necessary to negotiate effectively. The class will be interactive . Various case studies involving technology transactions will be analyzed and discussed. A reasonable amount of assigned reading and project work will be required.
Credits: 3

Introduces students to earth systems technology and management, and related concepts such as industrial ecology (the objective, multidisciplinary study of industrial and economic systems and their linkages with fundamental natural systems). The requirements of this course include regular and prepared participation in class and discussions, two semester projects, homework as assigned, and substantial reading and analysis of case studies and articles. Additionally, students will become familiar with design methodologies, and apply those methodologies to case studies as part of a class project. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

This course will challenge students to take the role of engineering consultants. Students will learn skills pertinent to the end-to-end process of client side interactions, as well as survey project management theories and learn how to co-develop a project in an efficient and ethical manner. Experiential learning will be emphasized, and heavy student participation will be expected.
Credits: 3

In this course, we will explore four case studies illustrative of the potential disharmony between intent and process. In each case, the action is a public policy initiative with scientific or technological dimensions, where good intentions either led to unwelcome collateral consequences, or the process of implementation failed to fulfill the intent of the policy.
Credits: 3

Social history of American technology in the twentieth century. Primarily concerned with the interplay between society and technology. Historical perspectives on the causes of technological change and the ways in which technologies extend or upset centers of social power and influence. Prerequisites: STS 1500 or equivalent
Credits: 3

This course explores how engineers can be seen as entrepreneurs in the sense that engineering often involves coordinating diverse resources (technology, knowledge, capital, and labor) in order to fulfill human needs and wishes. It examines different concepts of entrepreneurship and reviews cases of engineer-entrepreneurs. Students give several presentations and work in teams to develop a new product through a patent application and business.
Credits: 3

This course provides real world, hands-on learning on how to start a company. Students will work in teams learning how to turn a great idea into a great company and how to present your concept to investors.
Credits: 3

This class will teach you how to execute your idea into a viable business. Learn how to run a business within the context of its day-to-day operations and move forward to make a profit from the business. Learn about employee relations, legal issues, purchasing, developing for scalability, operations, financial reporting, and much more.
Credits: 3

This course will help prepare the student to either start a business in the future or be capable of evaluating a business being started and it’s likelihood of success. This course seeks to prepare students for a business world where written and spoken communication is essential to success.
Credits: 3

The course explores government contracting, how the government procures products and services, and opportunities created through government regulation.
Credits: 3

Introduces the fundamentals and history of U.S. copyright and patent law and examines its impact on technological innovation, technological creativity, business strategy, public welfare in the U.S. and developing nations, and global competitiveness. Prerequisites: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

Explores the ways scientists and inventors think, using concepts, theories, and methods borrowed from several disciplines, but focusing especially on psychology. Topics include experimental simulations of scientific reasoning, a cognitive framework for understanding creativity, and modeling discovery on a computer. Students read and discuss articles and conduct a short research project. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

Investigates the way technology is created and improved. Offers a collaborative learning environment in which multi-disciplinary teams invent and design several modules that emulate problems, such as the invention of the telephone or the design of an expert system. Includes readings from psychology, history, computing, ethics, and engineering. Students keep design notebooks, present team project results, and write an integrative paper. Prerequisite: STS 1500 or equivalent.
Credits: 3

This class will investigate the material development of human societies across history, inquiring into the role entrepreneurs played in creating new wealth. We will also apply lessons of history to developing your entrepreneurial skills. We will introduce a set of business tools called the Business Model Canvas (BMC) and apply these tools to historical examples. Working in groups, you will develop a new business or product for presentation.
Credits: 3

Special tutorial with a topic declared in advance. Limited to undergraduate SEAS students with third- or fourth-year standing. Not to substitute for STS 4500, 4600. The topic, work plan, and conditions are arranged by contract between instructor and student and approved by the department chair, with a copy to be filed in the department office. Prerequisites: STS 1500 or equivalent, a 2000-level STS course.

This course is designed to prepare undergraduates for internships in science and technology policy in Washington, DC, Richmond, and Paris. In the longer term, it aims to develop future leaders in science and technology, inside and outside of government, by equipping engineers and applied scientists with knowledge and skills in public policy. Enrollment is limited to participants in the Internship Program in Science and Technology Policy at SEAS. Pre-Requisites: Acceptance into the SEAS Science and Technology Policy Program. All interns in the program must take the course in the spring term before their internship.
Credits: 3

Students will explore the societal dimensions of a new technology through a combination of readings and discussions and a simulation of nanotechnology policy. Students should have an interest in the management of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, including how these technologies might transform our ways of living and even ourselves.
Credits: 3

Specific topics vary. Advanced level examination of the relationships among science, technology and society. Fullfills STS 2000-level requirement. Prerequisite: STS 1500
Credits: 1 to 4

This course engages students with the idea that success in posing and solving engineering problems requires attention to the social dimensions of professional endeavors and practice. STS theories and methods are applied to student thesis projects. Students produce a prospectus for the senior thesis project. Students must be in residence to take this course. Students are not permitted to take STS 4500 and STS 4600 simultaneously. Prerequisites: STS 2000 or STS 3000 level course.
Credits: 3

This course focuses on ethical issues in engineering. The key theme is that ethics is central to engineering practice. The professional responsibilities of engineers are examined. Students produce an STS Research paper linked to their technical thesis project and complete all of the requirements for the senior thesis. Students must be in residence to take this course. Students are not permitted to take STS 4500 and STS 4600 simultaneously. Prerequisites: STS 4500.
Credits: 3

Provides overview of business considerations required to commercialize new products. Included is an understanding of the business structure, processes, vocabulary, product lifecycle, organizational capabilities and financial/analytical tools, as well as the challenge of leadership in meeting diverse expectations of internal and external stakeholders. Taught with lectures, case studies and experiential projects.
Prerequisites: Business Minor & Fourth year standing.
Credits: 3

EnginBus_Overview_2 The Science, Technology, and Society (STS) program advances understanding of the social and ethical dimensions of science and technology. STS provides instruction in subjects that are essential to the education of professional engineers. This instruction forms the core of a liberal education and lays the foundation for ongoing professional development. All STS courses emphasize the relationships among science, technology, and society; ethics; and oral and written communication.

Notably, the UVA STS program is the only STS program in the U.S. situated within an engineering school at a national, comprehensive university. STS programs at peer institutions like MIT, Cornell, and Stanford are housed in the colleges of humanities and social sciences. Faculty in the UVA Program are close to the point of the knowledge production that they study while at the same time they are partners in engineering education. As a result, the STS program at UVA is unique in the way that it integrates a deep understanding of technology with broad perspectives about society and culture.

STS 1500 provides first-year engineering students with an introduction to important concepts in the field of Science, Technology, and Society. This course is designed to strengthen writing and speaking skills with special attention to the challenges of professional communication in engineering and applied science. The course also familiarizes students with the engineering profession, engineering ethics, and the social issues of professional engineering practice.

STS courses at the 2000 and 3000 level examine the social and ethical issues of science and technology from humanities and social science perspectives. Each focuses on a topic area, such as Thomas Jefferson’s interests in science and technology. Although writing and speaking skills continue to be stressed in these courses, the focus shifts from skills to the course’s content and the broader objective of improving students’ grasp of the social and ethical issues of science and technology.

Students in the fourth year enroll in a two-semester sequence, STS 4500: STS and Engineering Practice and STS 4600: The Engineer, Ethics, and Professional Responsibility. This sequence combines focused study of the social, ethical, and professional issues of engineering and technology with the research and writing of the Undergraduate Thesis.

All UVa undergraduate engineers are required to take at least four STS classes:

  1. STS 1500: Science, Technology, and Contemporary Issues – Great Inventions
  2. One 2000 or 3000 level STS class
  3. STS 450: STS and Engineering Practice
  4. STS 4600: The Engineer, Ethics, and Professional Responsibility

STS 1500 is taken in the first year, after which students can elect to take their 2000 or 3000 level STS class either their second or third year. The sequence of STS 4500 and STS 4600 is taken in the fourth year of study in order to guide students through their senior thesis.

In addition to the first- and fourth-year courses (STS 1500, and the STS 4500 / STS 4600 sequence) required of all engineering undergraduates, the department offers an array of 2000-level courses from which each student must choose at least one. Additional elective courses are offered at the 3000 level. Drawing on disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, these courses provide a variety of perspectives—social, historical, aesthetic, ethical, religious—on engineering, science, and technology.

In their senior year, all engineering undergraduates undertake a senior thesis project. Students work with a faculty member in their major and with an STS faculty member teaching STS 4500-4600; the thesis work includes integration of the technical subject matter with its ethical and social context.


History of Science and Technology Minor
In conjunction with the History Department, the Department of Science, Technology, and Society offers a minor in the history of technology and science. Open to all university undergraduates, this minor provides students with an opportunity to become familiar with humanistic perspectives of technology and science. For the engineering student, the minor offers an occasion for placing his or her professional education in a larger social and intellectual context; likewise, it provides the liberal arts student with a better understanding of science and technology as key components in human culture. Click here for more information.

Science and Technology Policy Minor
Students completing this minor will gain a deeper understanding of the interdependence of science, technology, engineering, and policy. They will also prepare themselves to lead organizations inside and outside of government, including those in industry, consulting, law, and medicine. Click here for more information.


W. Bernard Carlson, Department Chair and Professor
Catherine Baritaud, Science, Technology, & Society
Rosalyn W. Berne, Science, Technology, & Society
Joanne Cohoon, Science, Technology, & Society
Rider Foley, Science, Technology, & Society
Michael E. Gorman, Science, Technology, & Society
Deborah G. Johnson, Science, Technology, & Society
Lisa R. Messeri, Science, Technology, & Society
Kathryn A. Neeley, Science, Technology, & Society
Peter D. Norton, Science, Technology, & Society
Tolu Odumosu, Science, Technology, & Society
David L. Slutzky, Science, Technology, & Society
Caitlin Wylie, Science, Technology, & Society


April 1, 2016 at 1 pm, Brooks Hall
co–sponsored with Anthropology (and many others)
Speaker: Kim Tallbear
Topic: “Disrupting Life/Not Life: A Feminist-Indigenous Reading of Cryopreservation, Interspecies Relations and the New Materialisms”

April 7, 2016 at 6:00 pm in Olsson 006
Speaker: Emma Frow
Topic: “Standards as Technology Policy”

April 8, 2016 at Noon
Speaker: David Gunkel
Topic: “How to Survive the Robot Apocalypse”

April 11, 2016 at 5:00 pm
Sponsor: E & S Colloquium
Speaker: Paul Scherz
Topic: “Science as a Vocation in the Entrepreneurial Age”

April 21, 2016 at 5:30 pm
Speaker: Walter Valdivia
Topic: “Responsible Innovation and Science Policy”


In the fourth or fifth year of study, undergraduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia undertake a research project called the undergraduate thesis. The undergraduate thesis project is designed to give students firsthand experience with the communication of technical information, the ideas and values that shape technology, the role of individuals and organizations in innovation, the role of technology in solving problems, the impact of technology on society, the ethical issues in engineering, the way personal values are expressed in professional choices and activities, and the management over time of a major project involving a variety of resources.

The projects are normally in a field of study appropriate to students’ career interests in engineering or applied science. Students receive guidance on how to organize their projects and in preparing written and oral reports on their research by taking a two-course sequence, STS 4500 and STS 4600 (formerly numbered as 401/402 and 4010/4020). Each thesis is reviewed and approved by a technical advisor from the students’ major department and by the students’ 4500 and 4600 professors.

Over the two courses, the undergraduate thesis project serves as a case study in a range of cultural and ethical issues. In STS 4500, students step back and consider the broader context of technology and science in Western civilization, and what constitutes scientific and technological progress, focusing especially on ethical and cultural dimensions. In STS 4600, students are encouraged to develop an understanding of the engineer’s role in society and the role of ethical issues and ideals in engineering. The engineering thesis is used as the particular focus for the issues raised in these classes.

Students may submit their completed thesis to compete in the annual Undergraduate Research and Design Symposium.  For more information contact Kathryn Neeley,

Undergraduate Thesis Resources
Honor Guidelines
Professional, Ethical, and Legal
Special Considerations for Independent Projects
History of the Undergraduate Thesis

EnginBus_Overview_2 The STS program at UVA provides students with ample opportunities to expand their understanding of the relationship between science, technology, and society. Through exciting programs like the Washington Policy Internship, students are given unique insights to the role of STS in the world around them.

For more information on various opportunities within STS please visit our informational pages.

Ingrid Soudek Townsend Prize

Ingrid Soudek Townsend taught in the Department of Science, Technology and Society (and its predecessors) from 1973 until her retirement in 2008. In recognition of her dedication to excellence in undergraduate teaching, the STS Department established the Townsend Prize in her name in 2007.

The prize is awarded annually to the best paper by a first-year student in STS 1500, a course that uses the humanities and social sciences to introduce students to the roles of technology and engineering in society. This interdisciplinary approach typifies one of the key strengths of Professor Townsend’s teaching career.

Over the past several years, historians have produced exciting scholarship at the intersections of the History of Science, Technology, and the Environment. Although these sub-disciplines have developed separately – with distinct scholarly traditions, methodologies, and even their own journals and professional associations – scholars at the University of Virginia have led a drive to integrate these approaches in order to answer fundamental questions about how humans have come to understand “nature,” what technologies they have constructed to interact with the nonhuman world, and how these interactions have wrought significant changes to both nonhuman and human systems. Beginning in 1996, historians in the History Department and the Engineering School’s Department of Science, Technology, and Society organized the Committee for the History of Environment and Technology (“CHET”) to advance this integrated approach, eventually securing a National Science Foundation grant to fund graduate and post-graduate research demonstrating its utility. This mission to harness all the methodological tools of environmental, scientific, and technological studies continues today with UVA’s current Committee on the History of Environment, Science, and Technology (CHEST), which sponsors public talks and colloquia featuring innovative and insightful new works from graduate students and renowned scholars employing this integrated approach.

While UVA faculty and graduate students remain fundamentally grounded within the three disciplines of environmental, scientific, and technological studies, this intellectual community is also committed to demonstrating how insights gained through these perspectives reach across traditional disciplinary boundaries to inform the important work being done in political, economic, social, and cultural history. Recognizing the importance of this interdisciplinary pursuit, the Corcoran Department of History has recently created a Major Field of Study for graduate students interested in these issues. Mobilizing the ample intellectual resources of faculty in both the History Department and the Department of Science, Technology and Society, UVA offers a wide range of expertise in American and global environmental history, evolutionary history, energy history, public policy history, business and economic history, and the “contextual” approach to the history of technology. Faculty and graduate students working in these areas include:

Faculty Balogh, Brian, Professor of History, Department of History, University of Virginia
 Director and Chair, The Miller Center National Fellowship Program, Compton Professor
 20th Century U.S. Political, American Political Development, Environmental History, History of Science and Technology

John K. Brown
 Associate Professor
Technological and Industrial History W. Bernard Carlson
 History of Technology; American Business History; Social and Cognitive Theories of Innovation; Entrepreneurship

Christian W. McMillen 
Assistant Professor 
Native American; U.S. West

Karen Parshall 
Professor of History and Mathematics
History of Science

Robert Stolz
 Assistant Professor
Japanese History, Social Theory

Graduate Students James Allison 
Environmental History, History of Technology, US West, American Indian History, Legal History

Bartow Elmore 
U.S. South, Global Environmental History, Business History

Thomas Finger 
Environmental History, History of Technology, 19th Century US

Philip Herrington 
U.S. South, Environmental, Architectural

Laura Kolar
 American Science and Technology, Agricultural History, Food Studies

Stephen Macekura
 History of U.S. Foreign Relations; International Development and Globalization; Global Environmental History; Civil Society

Andrew Meade McGee
 20th Century U.S. Political and Cultural; American Political Development; Global Environmental and Technological History

Allen Miller 
U.S. Early Republic; Technology

Loren Moulds
 20th Century U.S. Cultural, Environmental, Gender, Urban History

Jessica Otis
 Early Modern England, History of Science, Atlantic

The Washington Policy Internship Program of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences provides up to ten UVA engineering undergraduate students a year with the opportunity to combine intensive academic study and hands-on experience with top science and technology policy leaders in Washington through a 10-week summer internship program. Started in 2000, the Program has graduated more than 150 engineering students.

The mission of the program is to develop leaders of technology who can also become policy leaders. Despite the fundamental importance of science and technology in most of the public policy issues facing the nation and the world, too few leaders have the capability to bridge the gap between the worlds of policy and the technical communities. By developing skills in policy analysis and communication through coursework and real- world, hands-on experience with carefully selected mentors, students in the Program learn how to make the connections between policy and technology.

The program is unique in the country. No other school has a policy internship program intended uniquely for engineering undergraduates that combines an intensive dedicated semester seminar with hands-on summer internships and research. Unlike other summer internship programs, placements are highly personalized. At the end of the summer, interns present their summer projects at a public research symposium.

Jim Turner, a former Chief Counsel of the House Science Committee and SEAS Trustee, has volunteered his time over the last thirteen years to use his extensive contacts to match students’ interests with mentors who give our students substantive policy work. Our students work in the White House, in the Directors’ Office at the National Science Foundation, and with other highly-placed leaders in science and technology-related government and non-governmental organizations.

The Program pays for summer dormitory housing and also provides need-basis stipends to allow students to explore their potential interest in policy regardless of their economic circumstances. The Program is supported by contributions from SEAS alumni, interested individuals, foundations, and companies.