Colleges Fight to Retain Interest of STEM Majors: Computing, too

July 15, 2013 at 1:33 am 2 comments

This is our problem in computing, too.  If students have never seen a computer science course before coming to college, they won’t know what hits them when they walk in the door.

Experts estimate that less than 40 percent of students who enter college as STEM majors actually wind up earning a degree in science, technology, engineering or math.

Those who don’t make it to the finish line typically change course early on. Just ask Mallory Hytes Hagan, better known as Miss America 2013.

Hagan enrolled at Auburn University as a biomedical science major, but transferred to the Fashion Institute of Technology a year later to pursue a career in cosmetics and fragrance marketing.

“I found out I wasn’t as prepared as I should be,” Hagan said during a panel discussion today at the 2013 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference in Austin. “I hit that first chem lab and thought, ‘Whoa. What’s going on?'”

via Colleges Fight to Retain Interest of STEM Majors – US News and World Report.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  July 15, 2013 at 3:10 am

    Maybe not worth a comment … but …

    Children are not “natural scientists” … we are wired to be curious, but also wired to accept stories as explanations. The result is that real science was amazingly difficult to invent even after 200,000 years of mild curiosity.

    We are also wired to accept lore and to memorize it. This is how traditional societies propagate themselves with little change. As a species we have been much more about coping than about progress.

    We can well imagine — with prejudgments on my part for certain — that Miss America’s high school in Alabama was not well set up for STEM subjects.

    On the other hand, I’m sure she was not shut off from other sources to find out what “biomedical science” entails (given that she chose to this as a focus before going to college). Again with prejudgments, I’d judge her to be “mildly curious but satisfied with stories” if what she was supposed to learn in her first chemistry course was a big surprise.

    What bothers me more about this article is the point of view ascribed to Ms Cunningham of Boston’s Museum of Science about “application and problem solving” being the preferred focus for “science”. I’m guessing — with positive prejudgments now — that she really didn’t say this as her main point. She probably said something pretty reasonable, and the reporter culled out and included what is really a distracter.

    If we go back to the “grand old man” of all this — Jerry Bruner — he would urge that an honest version of real STEM subjects be invented that are both of great interest to children -and- are real parts of the fields.

    If there is some combination of “ability = talent • skill • will” with regard to STEM subjects that is partly governed by random factors of genetics and cultures, we should expect distributions — maybe even “normal” ones — of progress here.

    What percentage of the general population should we expect will successfully get an undergrad degree in a STEM subject?

    What percentage of those who enter college with an aim for a STEM degree should we expect will successfully finish? Maybe normal + two standard deviations? That would be about 83%. Sounds high to me. 40% might be close to reasonable if the colleges are doing their job. Maybe split the difference?

  • 2. Dennis J Frailey  |  July 16, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    We don’t teach science and computing well (if at all) at the pre-university level. And our culture values many things higher than good science and engineering and computing. Then we compound the felony by having our worst teachers doing the introductory science and computing courses at universities. It’s no wonder we scare them off.


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