Skip to main content

Science, Technology, Ethics and Policy (STEP) Minor

Your perspective will help society navigate the challenges at the intersection of science, technology, ethics and policy.

Learn more about the program from our current students and Dr. David Tomblin, director of the minor.

Apply Now

The STEP minor is an interdisciplinary program sponsored by the School of Public Policy, the College of Information Studies, and the A. James Clark School of Engineering. It offers you the knowledge and analytical skills to understand and assess the complex interactions among science, technology, ethics and policy. Students in the minor explore the ways that scientific practice and technological development are embedded in social, cultural, humanistic and political systems. These connections help students see the variety of ways science and technology can be governed, designed and implemented to optimize the needs of society. Gain an increased sensitivity to ethical issues related to data analytics, artificial intelligence, automated systems, synthetic biology, climate engineering, energy development, physical and communication infrastructure, just to name a few.

You'll develop tools for anticipating potential social, ethical and political problems and employing these insights for emerging science and technology governance strategies. Investigate how culture, politics, economics, law, professional training, funding, and employment settings affect the pursuit of science and the development of technology, all while understanding how science and technology change these aspects of society.

As part of our experiential learning curriculum, you'll also reflect on your individual skills, practical knowledge, and experiences to articulate these complex relationships to the broader context of society’s needs, scientific research and technological development. Finally, all of your hard work will culminate in the capstone, where you'll use analytical methods from science and technology studies, policy studies, information studies, history, political science, ethics and other related disciplines

Concentration Areas

  • Political and Policy Implications: This concentration explores the contemporary societal implications of science and technology. These courses ask students to think about the role science and technology have played in creating local and global local and global social, environmental, and security challenges and what science and technology can do to help solve them.
  • Science and technology development: This concentration focuses on cultural, legal, organizational, and institutional forces that have shaped science and technology. It asks students to think about what causes knowledge production and technical practices to change over time and how these changes can improve implementation going forward.
  • Information economy: This concentration focuses on how the information economy has shaped scientific and technological practices. Students are asked to think about society’s evolving relationships with information as a driving force in the private and public sector.

Core Courses

  • Introduction to Science, Technology, Ethics and Policy (ENES 240): This course surveys the disciplinary concepts and methods fundamental to the three minor concentrations: information economy, science and technology development, and social, ethical, and policy implications. Overall, the course explores how science and technology shape society and how society shapes science and technology. Students will also relate concepts to topical issues in science and technology such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, automation, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and more. The ultimate product of the course is the development of a proposal that asks a scholarly question related to one or more of the concentrations. (Note: Students must earn a minimum grade of C- to be eligible for ENES 440).
  • Science, Technology, Ethics and Policy Capstone (ENES 440): This course focuses on applying concepts and building on knowledge obtained in the STEP minor course work and should be taken as the last in a student’s minor sequence. Students will use interdisciplinary methods from the social sciences and humanities to gain a better understanding of the political, ethical, social, environmental, cultural, economic, and technical complexities of science and technology. They will learn how to formulate a good question, employ several data collection methods (literature review, interviews, natural observation, document analysis) to gather evidence that supports the thesis, and apply a conceptual framework that gives the project coherence. Along the way, as a way to receive feedback to improve their study, students will give several types of professional presentations (posters, oral presentations, facilitated discussion) of their research progress.

Elective Courses

View the list of electives

Partnership with Federal and Global Fellows Programs

The STEP minor and the Federal and Global Fellows are synergistic programs, providing opportunities to expand on the internship experience and gain a deeper knowledge about the relationships among science, technology and society. The Federal and Global Fellows programs place students into semester-long internships in federal agencies and global organizations, many of which are related to science and technology. Many FGSM courses count as electives for the STEP minor (see list of elective courses). If you are in the Federal or Global Fellows program or have an interest in applying to those programs you may only need to take ENES240 (STEP minor introduction course) and ENES440 (STEP minor capstone) to satisfy the STEP minor requirements. Likewise, if you are in the STEP minor and you are interested in the Global and Federal Fellows programs, please contact or for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

This minor will equip you to become adept at understanding the complex interaction of science, technology, ethics and policy with its varied social, ethical and political implications. Specific examples of organizations in which students with this minor would find employment include non-governmental agencies, such as:

  • The United Nations
  • World Health Organization
  • The World Wildlife Federation
  • National Academies of Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Students may also find jobs at various government agencies, including:

  • The Department of Energy
  • The Department of State
  • The Environmental Protection Agency
  • The Department of Defense
  • The Department of Transportation
  • NASA
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • State agencies in Virginia and Maryland

STEP also prepares students for careers at private firms, such as:

  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Deep Mind
  • Raytheon
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Other environmental, data science, and infrastructure firms

Furthermore, many professional STEM firms are demanding that students be prepared in non-technical competencies such as systems thinking, ethics, cultural fluency, and collaborative skills.

No!  You are welcome to choose elective courses across concentrations or within just one.

Students must have 60 applicable degree credits to take the capstone course.  The capstone course should be taken as the last course in the minor.

Contact Us

Email us at or visit us during office hours.

How to Apply

Download the application and email completed form to

Download Application [DOCX] Download Application [PDF]