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STEM majors trading in hard science for social science

Dec. 1, 2011

By David Edwards

A recent article from the New York Times (Nov. 4) revealed that more students are choosing a liberal arts degree over a STEM (Science technology engineering and mathematics). According to the article, 60 percent of students studying engineering, science, and pre-medicine change majors before they graduate.It appears a similar trend is taking place at CSU.

However, Richard Rakos, associate dean of the College of Sciences and Health Professions said that some data from Institutional Research indicate that the College of Science retains a higher percentage of majors than the other colleges. But he agrees this is not enough.

A chart compiled by the Wall Street Journal indicates that out of 173 majors only two STEM majors are listed as the top ten choices. The chart also showed that 60 percent of the majors with highest rate of unemployment are liberal arts and social science majors.

The data in the Book of Trends showed that student enrollment in STEM is consistent over the years, but lower than in CLASS. Moreover, many CSU students change majors from STEM to social sciences and humanities, while President Obama is asking colleges to produce more STEM graduates.

According to Dr. Paul Lin, the associate dean of Academic Affairs for the Fenn College of Engineering, it is a challenge retaining students.

Most students are not as prepared as they could be and that many engineering students have to take remedial classes before beginning their engineering coursework, explained Dean Lin.
“Students often have to repeat classes,” said Lin.

The Times story reported that students are changing majors from science to humanities and social sciences because they find doing science in college hard.

There also appears to be a difference between what is taught in high school and what is expected in college.

Jess Walsh, a former Nursing student, said that students who might have been inspired to be nurses, scientist, or engineers have become dismayed once they came to college.

When they get to college they realize that it is a lot harder than they originally thought, said Walsh.

Talking with students it seems one of the reasons why some CSU students changed majors was because they did not feel their professors cared.

“To imply the hard sciences are more difficult than CLASS is just backwards and wrong,” Amiyra Alveranga said, who is triple majoring in History, Anthropology and International Relations.

The difference in student success is based more on the relationship between students and teachers than on the level of difficulty.

“For the most part there is an absolute disconnect between science professors and students,” Alveranga said.

Walsh disagreed. Walsh said that CLASS classes are easier because the subjects are more relatable than science courses but students still should work hard.

According to Alveranga, the science professors are satisfied if only the top percentile of the students succeed. She said that the Science department does offer some help but it is not enough.

“There is tutoring and SI, but those things hardly ever match what you do in the classroom,” Alveranga said.

Walsh said she noticed a similar trend.
“In most of the science courses I took it didn’t seem like the professors cared whether or not you passed and it seemed like they just cared about their research,” said Walsh.

Rakos said that most of the professors care about the students successs.

“Still, the College takes even occasional complaints and concerns very seriously,” said Rakos.

Melanie McDowell said that she feels more comfortable with professors from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Science than she does with science professors. “There are some good science professors,” McDowell said “(but) I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking them for a letter of recommendation.”

The problem is not limited to Cleveland State . Robin Elder, Junior in International Relations said she had a similar experience when she transferred from West Virginia .

“Engineering professors seemed to teach above students, IR professors are more engaged,” said Elder.

Elder said she changed colleges because she wanted to work more with people and less with things.

Joshua Peeples, biology student, disagreed.
“My experience has been different,” Peeples said, “most teachers make themselves available.”

Barbra K. Modney, associate professor, who teaches an introductory biology course, said most students do not take advantage of her office hours. “Every semester I rarely see students come to my office for help,” Modney said.

One program that has been used to help students is SLA (Supplemental Learning Assitance), a tutoring service for students in the introductory course biology course. The class consists of eleven sections with a maximum of forty students per section. SLA is required for students who perform poorly on exams and are taught by other students.

“SLA students work hard putting together activities to get students more engaged,” Modney said.

Dean Rakos said he encourages students to talk with their professors and bring the issues they have to the attention of the chair of the department.

To promote STEM, Dean Lin said that the college of Engineering is working with neighboring high schools to educate young people about the field of engineering. Under the program called Fenn Academy , Fenn College of Engineers sends officers to thirty local high schools to inform students about engineering.