YCC committee aims to bolster sciences

Amidst a slew of University-wide initiatives to bolster Yale’s science and engineering programs, the Yale College Council has created a new subcommittee devoted to representing the needs of students in those disciplines.

Announced earlier this fall, the subcommittee is composed of 10 total undergraduates and YCC members majoring in science and engineering and will focus on concrete policy improvements — mentoring, student and faculty interaction, and career assistance for students in those majors. Though the group has only convened twice since the start of the 2011-’12 academic year, YCC President Brandon Levin ’13 said the subcommittee is one of the first concrete efforts by the YCC in recent years to specifically enact policies geared toward Yale’s science and engineering community.

“Because of the one year turnover, the institutional culture [of the YCC] doesn’t always result in physically getting things done,” Levin said. “On day one, we sat down with the subcommittee and said that this is about improving students’ everyday lives.”

While Levin said YCC candidates run on platforms of improving Yale’s science and engineering culture every year to capture that portion of the student vote, he said the promises made in past years — such as revamping laboratory class credits­ — have often not come to fruition. Levin said he first came up with the idea for a science and engineering subcommittee during his campaign for YCC president, and wanted to make sure he followed through with the initiative.

During its first two meetings, the subcommittee has already begun tackling both its long-term and short-term goals, said chair Archit Sheth-Shah ’13, who is a biomedical engineering major and the YCC treasurer. Several of these goals are focused on curbing attrition in these majors and improving resources that support science and engineering students.

Levin and Sheth-Shah both said they hope to see the new initiatives in place by the end of the school year. As the weeks progress, the subcommittee will meet with specific department heads to tackle policies related to specific majors, they added.

Deputy Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Vincent Wilczynski, who was among the first administrators that the subcommittee approached for advice and collaboration, said he is thrilled the YCC is dedicated to resolving problems faced by many science and engineering students.

“Part of the excitement from our viewpoint is that the subcommittee’s work exactly parallels initiatives within the school to foster a culture of engineering,” he said. “It [is] fantastic that there’s a group of students in these disciplines that are looking to be advocates for future students.”

To help develop that science culture, the subcommittee is working toward creating a mentoring program that will address the larger, systemic problem of students dropping science and engineering majors shortly after arriving at Yale, Sheth-Shah said.

The mentoring program will pair a declared upperclassman in a given science or engineering major with a freshman who applied to Yale with the same prospective major, Sheth-Shah said. The mentoring program is designed to help students better navigate their intended majors by providing them with advice about teachers and course loads, he said, adding that roughly 40 percent of incoming freshmen declare science or engineering majors, but only about 20 percent graduate with degrees in those disciplines.

Another focus of the subcommittee is partnering with Undergraduate Career Services to establish a database where students can search for internship opportunities in science and engineering industries, subcommittee member Jenny Mei ’13, who is majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, said. Yale’s current resources are geared toward helping students find clinical and medical research positions, but they focus less on other, non-medical careers that science and engineering graduates can pursue, she said.

The subcommittee also aims to change the routes and frequencies of buses going up Science Hill, and to help Kline Biology Tower Café operate more efficiently at peak hours, Sheth-Shah added.

In addition to concrete policy changes, the subcommittee is also trying to address what its members said some students perceive as a disconnect between science and engineering majors and their faculty.

Subcommittee member Rohit Thummalapalli ’13 said the group plans to reach out to the directors of undergraduate studies for science and engineering majors — coordinating with them to organize dinners for faculty and students of certain majors. Thummalapalli and Mei both said they hope this will build camaraderie among faculty and students within each department.

“We’re trying to make everyone feel as invested and connected to other kids in the major as they would be in a liberal arts major,” Mei said. “I feel like we should do a better job of reaching out to students and making them feel like they have the help and support that they need.”

The science and engineering subcommittee meets at 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Comments

  • CharlieWalls

    I have been away many years but notice first of all the indication that 20% are graduating in science and engineering. For a traditionally liberal arts college, that seems a remarkably good percentage. Thus my impression is that this whole piece may not be needed along with the attention it directs to the various directors and policy makers referenced.

    Further, if familiarities within the groups are deemed valuable, an article with many more comments from students actually involved might be more effective — and interesting.

  • River_Tam

    Mathematics and science are part of the classical “liberal arts”. It’s only recently that “liberal” as referring to arts has come to mean “non-quantitative” when it originally meant “the arts learned by a free man”.

    Indeed, 4 of the 7 original “liberal arts” would be considered QR credits – geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, and logic. Aristotle revolutionized Physics, Natural History, and Medicine. He dissected dozens of animals. The fact that a student can graduate Yale knowing no more about the workings of the human body than Aristotle did (which was precious little, let’s be clear) is a tragedy.

    It’s also tragic that “liberal arts” have come to be synonymous with a “Great Books Programs”.