Creative Commons

Low-income students in STEM courses can now borrow calculators for their exams and studies through an initiative by the Yale First-Gen and Low Income Advocacy Movement, or YFAM. 

The program is a part of a sustained effort on behalf of the administration and campus student groups to increase technology and equipment accessibility for all. The Calculator Loan is among a new wave of programming that YFAM is heralding, along with a pen-pal mentorship program and first-year meal tag that connects students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds for a conversation. 

“[The effort was] driven by the students [who] feel like they constantly have to catch up because of lack of access to learning technology like calculators,” wrote YFAM Co-President Hedy Tung ’24. “This project was driven by the need of [those] who can’t afford the $120 to purchase a graphing calculator … or replace their calculator a day before their exam.”

To request a graphing or scientific calculator, students fill out a Google form, and shortly afterwards are put in contact with a YFAM officer who will reach out with additional information. The calculator pickup and dropoff location is on the second floor of 55 Whitney Ave., and there are options to borrow a device for a one-time use before an exam, monthly use or semesterly use. 

A $10 deposit fee is charged upon acquiring a calculator, but the money is returned to students upon return of the device. 

The discourse on the expenses that come with studying STEM is not a new one. A 2019 Hatchet article found that STEM course materials at George Washington University cost upwards of up to 85 percent more than their humanities counterparts — and K-12 educators mention that even for younger students, developing STEM curricula in particular is a pricey undertaking. 

Another 2018 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research stated that the cost is a two-way street: administration also typically pours more funding into STEM courses, with the exception of mathematics, citing equipment, research and extracurricular opportunities for students. 

Though Yale subsidizes study abroad and summer research through the one-time Summer Experience Award, smaller costs and equipment are usually not covered. For STEM courses at the University, this can range from calculators to Achieve digital problem set applications to organic chemistry model kits. 

“Even with full financial aid, students are often not informed about the extra costs of books and devices that are required for them to do well in their classes,” said Kayla Wong ’25. “Lab coats are currently required for students in STEM classes, and many have had to pay over $50 for them.” 

YFAM Co-President Jean Tobar ’24 noted that these challenges were exacerbated during the pandemic, when students did not have access to a physical campus for immediate resources. 

“I think COVID-19 and virtual learning made us more aware of the ways that learning is inequitable for lots of students,” Tobar wrote. “Calculators are just one of the ways that low-income students are at a disadvantage in STEM classes, but the list goes on and on.”

Tung thanked the FGLI Community Initiative for helping fund the calculators and emphasized that this is not the first nor only loaning program that FGLI campus groups and administration are planning to offer. 

There is an ongoing collaboration between the Asian American Cultural House and the Yale College Dean’s Office called Career Closet that allows students to borrow professional clothing for interviews and formal recreation, though the services have been on a hiatus this semester for COVID-19 safety reasons, she said. 

For Andrew Tran ’26, it is little things like calculator access that make a big difference. He noted that though technology may not appear to be a “huge deal” to others, having proper devices is one of the first academic hurdles that confront financially disadvantaged Yalies. 

Currently, the Dean’s Office supports a laptop loan through Safety Net, but Joanna Ruiz ’25 noted that these loans are usually given out on an emergency basis — and that there is no option for borrowing iPads. 

By increasing the bandwidth of who is eligible for devices and the diversity of the devices offered, more individual situations can be accommodated for, such as when computers are being slow or the unique requirements of specific academic assignments, she said. 

Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis did not respond to a request for comment. 

“There is also a one-time technology grant of around $3700 for those who are on full aid [and] also receive additional scholarships, but I would like to see expanded and more continuous options, especially for scenarios [where] one’s device isn’t working properly,” Tran added. 

According to Tran, having a multi-year technology grant that lets students apply for more than one purchase enables a flexibility that would account for device malfunctions and allow students to experiment with technological features and resources that work best for them. 

Nonetheless, the calculator program is a step towards supporting the transition into a relentless and fast-paced Yale learning environment, he said.

According to Tung, YFAM is currently in conversation with department heads, professors and administration to explore the possibility of adding the Calculator program onto the official list of services on the Yale FGLI Community Initiative website. Some professors have offered to add this program to their syllabi for the next semester already, she said, but she hopes that more students will eventually be made aware of this resource. 

“Why not even the playing field?” Ruiz asked. 

The Yale FGLI Community Initiative has an office at 55 Whitney Ave., Suite 240. 

Brian Zhang covers student life for the University desk, and previously housing and homelessness for the City desk. He is a sophomore in Davenport College.