Former associate dean, information technology expert, and Don Quixote scholar Diane Sieber has taken the helm of CU Boulder’s Herbst Program for Engineering, Ethics and Society.
As program director, Sieber will guide one of the college’s signature programs, which provides seminar-style courses for engineering students that explore technology and ethics through the lens of literature, history, philosophy and global perspectives.
“It’s really important for our students to understand that being an engineer doesn’t mean you give up those other interests,” Sieber said.
For Sieber, interdisciplinary learning is not merely lip service. The proof is in her resume.
Raised in Spain, Sieber joined in the faculty of CU’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese in 1993 and migrated to the Herbst faculty in 2004.
Her research and teaching interests led her to codirect the ATLAS Institute at its inception in 2000 and to start the Technology, Arts and Media program during that time. From 2007-12 she directed the Herbst Program, then served as associate dean for education in the College of Engineering and Applied Science for four years (where she helped to launch the Idea Forge).
Sieber currently serves as founding faculty director of the Global Engineering Residential Academic Program, living alongside undergrad students in Kittredge Central for the last seven years. That commitment will end July 1, and a new director from the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering will take over RAP leadership.
With multiple languages under her belt, Sieber encourages students to take advantage of opportunities to travel abroad and explore other cultures, and has led Global Seminar courses to Madrid.
A recipient of the Peebles Award for Innovation in Teaching, the University of Colorado systemwide Excellence in Leadership Award, and a President’s Teaching Scholar, Sieber said she’s excited to lead the Herbst Program in a time of transition.
Founded by a generous donation from Clancy and Linda Herbst in 1989 and formerly called the Herbst Program of Humanities in Engineering, the program rebranded in late 2019 as it celebrated its 30-year milestone.
About 25 percent of engineering students take at least one class through the Herbst program during their undergraduate careers. Through close reading, conversation and debate, students in those courses identify and examine their most deeply-held beliefs in order to explore how personal ethics intersect with their professional lives as scientists and engineers, Sieber said.
“Particularly in the current day when civility has been on the decline, we get to set the stage for civil disagreement,” she said. “That’s very exciting to me, to get to raise hard questions that don’t necessarily have one answer, and to model how to weigh conflicting obligations and conflicting desires.”
The Herbst faculty is highly interdisciplinary and collaborative – they hold PhDs or MFAs in a variety of fields and collectively speak over 10 languages – and students learn through literature, poetry, nonfiction, film and other media for “whole-brain collaboration,” Sieber said.
Engineering faculty members interested in collaborating with or hosting a Herbst faculty member for a class lecture are encouraged to reach out, she added.
Sieber took over as director on Jan. 1, 2020, from Leland Giovannelli, who is stepping back after serving as co-director from 2012-15 and director from 2015-2019.