Promoting a sense of societal connectedness is critical in today’s engineering educational environment. The NAE’s Grand Challenges for Engineering point to broad human concerns — sustainability, health, vulnerability, and joy of living — and human connectivity as the future of engineering problem solving. Engineering studies, however, are often presented in a completely decontextualized manner, with an emphasis on technical content that is free of any human meaning. As a result, students may have difficulty identifying either personal or societal value in their learning tasks. Through their course design, instructors can help students situate themselves and their engineering learning experiences within the larger human system. Studying technologies and technological development within the broader societal context may, in turn, offer significant benefits to student motivation and engagement in learning. In this paper, we report findings from a three-year investigation of the effects of disciplinary integration on student motivation and learning engagement in introductory materials science courses. The quantitative results show that integrating materials science with humanities provides for increased student motivation and cognitive engagement in learning. Compared to students in non-integrated project-based courses, students in integrated project-based courses show higher intrinsic motivation and task value. In addition to these motivational gains, students in the integrated materials science-history course report significantly higher use of critical thinking strategies in their project work, indicating that an emphasis on societal context may help students cognitively engage in their engineering studies. Our findings also indicate that women in the integrated materials-history course report higher intrinsic motivation, task value, self-efficacy, and critical thinking strategy use compared to women in the non-integrated materials course. Overall, our research suggests that putting human contexts at the center of engineering learning can help students build a sense of societal relatedness that promotes better learning.