Group IV’s target non-majors



When shopping courses to fulfill their distributional requirements, non-science majors may now have an alternative to a room full of pre-meds or a watered down version of “Physics for Poets.”

Coinciding with a recent push by Yale to strengthen science courses for non-science majors, Yale’s Astronomy, Chemistry and Biology Departments are offering introductory courses this year that are more challenging, yet still accessible. This term, Astronomy chairman Charles Bailyn is co-instructing “Current Topics in Science” while Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology professor Tim Nelson is team-teaching “An Issues Approach to Biology.” Both classes are aimed at educating non-science majors in current scientific issues.

The new classes aim to bolster science offerings for non-science majors, a key recommendation of last year’s Yale College academic review. Leading the charge was Bailyn, who was chairman of the physical sciences and engineering working group. But Bailyn said much of the movement to expand introductory science options started even before the academic review.

Last year, the physical sciences subcommittee conducted a survey of seniors who had taken the minimal number of Group IV courses for requirement purposes. Bailyn said the results demonstrated the need for more challenging introductory science classes.

“We got the consistent message that we have been neglecting the large class of Yale students that was good at science in high school but chose not to be science majors,” he said.

Bailyn’s “Current Topics in Science” course is open to only freshmen and is designed as a “Perspectives on Science” for non-majors. This discussion-style class meets once a week for a full year and is divided into eight three-week segments on current science issues.

Meanwhile, Nelson is team-teaching “An Issue Approach to Biology,” a course geared towards educating non-majors in current biological issues that have become prominent in national legislation and the media.

He said the MCDB Department has recognized the need for such classes for several years. “An Issues Approach to Biology” is a continuation of that effort, he said.

“We have a responsibility to bring literacy to people who are going to be making policy and decisions about technology and science in the future,” Nelson said.

For their part, non-Group IV majors expressed enthusiasm about useful, accessible science courses. Despite the fact that she could not get into the packed WLH classroom on Friday for Nelson’s class, Julia Strasser ’05 said she was happy to have found the course.

“For the past two years, I’ve had to choose between a pre-med class that was too intense or a watered down version of the subject,” she said.

Hen Kennedy ’07 said she thought it might be a science class she could enjoy.

“The issues we’re talking about seem a lot more pertinent to life,” she said.

Although the introductory courses are aimed at non-science majors, the professors said they do not intend to make them any less rigorous than introductory courses for science majors.

“[‘An Issues Approach to Biology’] is not intended to be a diluted biology course,” Nelson said. “We are assuming Yale undergraduates are intelligent enough to pick up issues at a relatively deep level.”

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