Freshmen show record interest in STEM fields

More students in the class of 2016 are likely to pursue a science or engineering major than in any previous class.

According to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, 42.5 percent of freshmen are potentially interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) majors — a marked increase over the one-third of freshmen who were interested six years ago. The number of seniors who graduated with science and engineering majors also reached a record 260 students last year, and administrators said they hope to maintain those trends.

“I think it’s a terrific trend, and it’s not by accident,” Associate Provost for Science and Technology Timothy O’Connor said. “It’s the result of an initiative that’s been going on for some time within the Admissions Office.”

The Admissions Office has undertaken several measures over the past few years to bolster Yale’s reputation in the sciences and engineering. In 2011, the office started requiring applicants interested in engineering to write an additional essay, and in the spring of that year the University introduced the Yale Engineering and Science Weekend, which invites strong applicants with interests in STEM majors to campus in order to explore Yale’s science facilities and learn about its programs and opportunities. Yale also hosts science and engineering forums for prospective students on the East and West coasts and began including a science and engineering viewbook in its admissions materials in 2009.

O’Connor said he does not yet know whether demand for STEM courses has increased notably this fall. Should demand for science lecture classes exceed normal levels, lecture classes will relocate to larger lecture halls and the schedule for lab courses may be reconfigured. In the long term, O’Connor said Yale plans to construct larger auditoriums on Science Hill.

Still, two professors of introductory science courses interviewed said they have not seen substantial increases in course enrollment, and two others said they are not sure if increased interest among freshmen was responsible for greater enrollment.

Molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Michael Koelle said BIOL 101 — a new introductory-level biology course — had a large number of shoppers, but he attributed that increase to new requirements in the major.

“There are probably several sources, the most important of which is that [all of the biology majors] now require the BIOL 101-104 courses,” he said. “I’m not sure if an increased number of freshmen interested in science is also a factor in the large enrollment in BIOL 101.”

Koelle added that he hopes freshmen planning to major in a STEM field will not sacrifice the opportunities to explore courses in other majors and non-STEM fields at Yale.

Along with upping its recruiting efforts, the University has prioritized increasing the percentage of students who follow through on their plans to major in STEM fields. The current retention rate in the sciences at U.S. colleges is less than 40 percent, said Jo Handelsman, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology professor who co-authored a White House report on improving undergraduate STEM education. Handelsman estimated in February that the rate at Yale is approximately the same.

The University also established the STEM Teaching Transformation Committee last year to improve STEM teaching. During the same time period, Yale has pursued major renovations to science and engineering facilities, and administrators anticipate that interest in the sciences and engineering will continue to grow alongside these projects. Deputy Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science Vincent Wilczynski said the opening of the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design this fall will greatly increase the school’s visibility to prospective students.

“It’s not just one challenge, but many, and we have to meet them all if we’re going to the best that we can to help students achieve their aspirations,” Associate Dean of Science Education William Segraves said. “We’re trying to address the full range of them, including how we support faculty members in their role as teachers, how we promote the evolution of the curriculum and pedagogy to incorporate new discoveries … and how we foster an environment beyond the classroom that supports and enhances students’ learning.”

Yale College currently offers 26 different STEM majors.

Comments

  • HollyRushmeier

    We are seeing a dramatic increase in Computer Science courses. This may be the result of the efforts in STEM recruiting. Or, perhaps it is the result of the proposed espresso machine.

  • ldffly

    This is a great development. Years ago, the lack of scientific and mathematical literacy among Yale undergraduates was brought home to me in an intro to early modern philosophy class. I mentioned the term ‘analytic geometry’ in relation to Descartes and about one third of the class was stumped. That was trouble. Science and mathematics are part of this culture as much as Shakespeare. I hope every undergraduate benefits from this.

    By the way, for those wondering about the expansion of bureaucracy, when in the world did Yale College get an associate dean of science education? I racked my brain, but I can’t ever seem to remember hearing about this.

  • JoNathan

    They offer a better future to the student than majoring in Victim Studies.

    • ldffly

      Although years ago, the victim studies track had yet to hit the curriculum. Brewster and Giamatti wouldn’t even let Women’s Studies have money.

  • yalengineer

    Let the attrition begin.

  • River_Tam

    This makes me happy.

  • chorleywood

    Physics too is seeing an increased enrollment this Fall. A total of about 500 students are enrolled cross all four introductory physics courses.