From the Yale International Relations Association to the Yale Political Union, Yale’s campus is dominated by liberal arts-focused student groups and dozens of arts groups. But there are fewer STEM-based student groups at Yale, and many of those that exist encounter difficulties in attracting students and funding events.
Most student groups face the challenge of funding, but the task can be particularly difficult for STEM groups because of the money-intensive projects they work on. Student groups apply for funding through the Undergraduate Organizations Committee and may receive one of three grants — the administrative grant, the event grant and the publication grant. The former is capped at $400, and the latter is only for funding the regular release of media. The event grant is uncapped, but must be used for open events for Yale students. Students interviewed said the University could do more to foster STEM extracurriculars, especially by increasing investment in them.
“Revamping UOC funding policies would likely help ease some of the strain placed on groups by costs unique to being STEM focused,” said Zach Gardner ’17, co-president of the Yale University Society for the Biological Sciences. “Biology is an experimental science, and actually doing biology tends to be quite expensive.”
Manjari Randiera ’16, co-president of the Yale Physics Society and president of the Yale Drop Team — a zero-gravity research group that collaborates with NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Program — said her organizations obtain funding largely outside of the University’s usual paths, such as sponsors or funding from the Physics Department.
Particularly for the Yale Drop Team, standard funding through the UOC is not sufficient for larger projects, Randiera said. The group applies for grants from $1,000 to $8,000 through the Connecticut Space Consortium in order to supplement Yale funding.
In the spring of 2014, UOC-approved grants for STEM student groups were outnumbered roughly six to one by non-STEM student groups.
Additionally, fewer students take part in STEM-based student groups than in liberal arts groups, a fact Gardner attributes to the greater number of humanities and social science students at Yale.
Sherry Lee ’18, a member of the Yale Science Olympiad, attributes this distribution in student group focus to the more singular focus of STEM majors in their classes, leading to less of a need for STEM activities outside of the classroom.
“STEM is seen as a more substantial pursuit and more legitimate as a primary career focus,” Lee said. “There’s more plurality in liberal arts extracurriculars because they’re strategically more useful in fleshing out a diversity of ‘other’ interests that can make someone appear more well-rounded and interesting.”
Lee added that STEM students were likely drawn to similar extracurricular activities as liberal arts students because their interest in STEM work is largely fulfilled in the classroom and in assignments.
Gardner agreed, adding that YUSBS has struggled with low student interest.
“We’re currently in the process of exploring partnerships with area biotech companies and have regrettably been met with only limited success despite the relatively concentrated nature of that industry in Connecticut,” he said. “We couldn’t find enough interested undergraduates to participate.”
Daniel Chenevert ’18, a prospective math major, said that while there are fewer options in the STEM extracurricular community, that lack of diversity comes from the nature of the field.
“The field as a whole lends itself to a narrower scope of activities, at least early in one’s STEM career,” he said.
Randiera noted the more strongly institutionalized nature of humanities-centered groups. Since they were more deeply engrained in the culture of Yale, she said, they have a stronger pull on incoming freshmen and undergraduates as a whole.
In an April 2014 News survey, half of participants at Yale noted that they spend equal or more time on extracurricular activities than on academics.