Integrated humanities studies

enhance goal

Integrated humanities studies

Enhancing communication skills, strengthening critical thinking, and unlocking creativity are the goals behind the Integrated Humanities Studies element. Including the humanities and social sciences provides context for and improves the application of technologies. We strengthen the technical by integrating the non-technical.

Recognizing the importance of human-centered design

Todd R. Kelley, associate professor in technology leadership and innovation, was ahead of the human-centered design curve in 2015, when he visited tech giants Apple, Google and Tesla to learn what made these technology companies successful. He discovered that successful tech companies were adding anthropologists to their design teams in addition to engineers and industrial designers, to help them create a human-centered, design-solutions focus on customer needs.

In 2016, Kelley was joined in the classroom by Sherylyn Briller, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts, to teach TECH 22000, Designing Technology for People. The course incorporates ethnography – observing people while they use products as anyone normally would – to solve product design issues.

“Good human-centered design requires identifying the end-users and studying them to learn how they interact with the new technology,” said Kelley. “Dr. Briller brings the expertise of applied anthropology, specifically blending her expertise in ethnography techniques vital to teaching students to respond to human-centered design, the key approach to TECH 22000.”

Diversity in staffing is key

To get the best feedback, Kelley recommends involving people who come from a variety of backgrounds, and avoiding inclusion of more than one subject matter expert.

“When it comes to improving a product or design, experts don’t always ask the best questions because they’re already familiar with the product and how it’s used. Include people who are novices to the field and the product within that field. These novices often are the ones who challenge why something is done a particular way, and this often yields the next innovation,” explained Kelley. “For example, expert golfers are not always the best designers of golf equipment. The most innovative designer might be the novice who has never picked up a club. They more naturally push the norms.”

User experience is choreographed

Technology-driven art: a beautiful surprise

The Department of Computer Graphics Technology encouraged faculty to look beyond the classroom for unconventional ways to incorporate the humanities into the transformed Polytechnic experience. Assistant professor Esteban Garcia Bravo, along with Matt Wallace, limited term lecturer, created the Purdue Computational Arts Circle as a voluntary option for students to participate in art – particularly technology-driven art – not as a for-credit class, but for their own personal growth.


The humanities remind us to look beyond the screen and give us perspective on the problem we’re trying to solve.

- Bradlge-Jacob Gordon
senior, visual effects compositing

Originally funded by a grant from the Office the Dean, the Computational Arts Circle now depends on sponsorships to fund weekly meetings. Faculty and other guest speakers share information and inspiration focused on philosophy, art history and other topics, usually with a tie to technology in art. Students are encouraged to create and exhibit their own works of art, and an annual gallery show in Lafayette, Indiana, gives students the experience of sharing their art with a larger audience. Garcia Bravo notes that the gallery show helps students gain confidence from the “beautiful surprise” of learning that others value their work.

“This has influenced how I teach and how I connect with my students,” said Garcia Bravo. “Our students bring a lot of talent and knowledge to the Polytechnic from before their time at Purdue, and we should allow them to express that in the classroom or with unique outlets like the Computational Arts Circle.”

All indications point to the successful transformation of the Polytechnic.

With a focus on innovative learning methods, hands-on experiences and industry partnerships, these 10 Elements of Transformation drive the Polytechnic Institute’s dedication to impactful technology education.