The Genesis of the Debates
Real engineering problems are rarely black and white. This is particularly true when problems are placed on the canvas of societal, economical, ethical, environmental, and political considerations. There are, however, few (if any) places in the standard undergraduate curriculum to discuss and debate complex interconnected issues, exploring the pros and cons of various positions.
With that in mind, in 1997, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University initiated a novel activity designed to achieve several differing goals. It is known as our annual Chemical and Biological Engineering Debates.
The idea for the debate program grew out of the following issues connected with our undergraduate program:
- A need for significant discussion of chemical engineering issues in the context of societal, environmental, and political constraints.
- A desire for informal faculty/graduate student/undergraduate interactions.
- A need for intellectual discussion amoung students and faculty members on issues outside of the classroom or curricular issues.
- A need to counter-balance the ever-increasing tendency for faculty members and students to narrow their focus to issues of immediate professional and/or academic interests.
Another concern, perhaps less prominent at the time, was the desire to take some steps to focus attention on awareness of broad societal issues and on the importance of lifelong learning among our students, as mandated in the then up coming ABET EC 2000 expectations.
Learn more about our departmental debates by reading J.M. Ottino & J.S. Dranoff's "Chemical Engineering Debates," Chemical Engineering education 2000, 362–365.