Blakeslee: Don’t diss Yale sciences

I did not choose Yale for its residential colleges, vibrant student body, or myriad extracurriculars. I chose Yale for its engineering program.

By 10th grade, I was decided on becoming an electrical engineer, on spending my time in lab, on getting a technical education. At a high school info session, I met an admissions officer who had just graduated as a mechanical engineering major from Yale. His stories piqued my interest and I applied.

My first introduction to the campus was in early April on an engineering tour. The guide spoke of research opportunities starting freshman year, support for independent projects, small class sizes, close relationships with faculty and an enthusiastic community of engineers — Yale has a personal commitment to its students. The general campus tour later that day was a mob scene, and I left the group before we even hit the statue of Woolsey — I already knew this was where I wanted to spend the next four years.

Almost two years later, Yale has delivered everything that it promised.

Intro classes are tailored to every student’s needs. The various levels allow us to challenge ourselves to a reasonable degree. The guidance provided by Directors of Undergraduate Studies is extremely thoughtful — whenever I have spoken with a professor or DUS, they have always seriously cared about helping me choose classes to meet my needs.

The professors in these classes follow through with a similar level of commitment. Find me another school where you can approach the professor of a 100-person lecture on the day of a midterm (as I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I have done) and say, “I’m so sorry. I need a little clarification about this particular topic,” and have them offer you an appointment with them that afternoon to review the concept before the exam.

Perspectives on Science and Engineering has been described in a recent op-ed column as being “so legendarily boring that it could drive even the most ardent aspiring physicist into the arms of the English department.” The only place that I’ve seen it drive a physicist is to research at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s highest-energy particle collider. For some, funding came through PSE grants, and for others, different Yale fellowships. Professors in the physics department recently provided seven of us with the opportunity to work for them at CERN in Switzerland this past summer, generously giving us their mentorship and support. Find me another school whose faculty will give a freshman the opportunity to work on-site at CERN, give her the responsibility of writing code to change how data is processed, trust her to contribute to two publications, and allow her to take shifts monitoring data quality. Find me a better way for a student to grow immeasurably as a developing scientist and engineer.

A low student-to-faculty ratio is another powerful aspect of Yale’s science and engineering programs. The third course in the electrical engineering intro sequence this past semester had eight students and an extremely committed professor and teaching fellow. I made appointments to meet with them often, seeking help on a problem set or asking them to watch me solve a few problems and correct me where I was going wrong. Show me that in a 200-person intro lecture — because at a technical university, that’s how large the course would have been.

Yale has incredible humanities and social science courses: I loved The Art of Reading a Poem with Harold Bloom and Modern Irish Drama with Murray Biggs. But great humanities and great science are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, science and engineering are based on creative, analytical thinking, no different than the arts, political strategy or literary analysis.

I am excited to help the admissions office with the upcoming Yale Science and Engineering Weekend because I want other students interested in my field to see that, contrary to popular belief, Yale can be a perfect fit for them.

Yale is a school where the science and engineering departments are extremely committed to undergraduates. It encourages undergraduates to engage in research, helps them succeed, and expands their experience with a phenomenal complement of rich and varied other courses. Enough pessimism: it’s time to get the word out about this impressive commitment.

Brigid Blakeslee is a sophomore in Saybrook College.

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