A Move Towards STEM

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A Move Towards STEM

By Eleanor Baker and Perla Cervantes

STEM is becoming increasingly prevalent at Earlham. The incoming president, Dr. Anne Houtman, is from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

According to Earlham’s website, the school began renovating the natural science complex in 2012. Stanley Hall was finished in 2013, and the new addition, The Center for Science and Technology, CST, was completed in 2015.

The chair, David C. Stump ‘72, and vice chair, David Jones ‘76, on Earlham’s Board of Trustees come from STEM backgrounds. Stump has previously worked at Human Genome Sciences Inc. and Greentech Inc., while Jones has worked for Exxon as an exploration geologist, according to their online biographies.

There is also an incentive for international students to pursue degrees in the STEM field and Earlham has a large international student population. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion optional practical training (OPT).”

F-1 students are in the United States with a student visa. Optional practical training can happen before or after a student graduates and allows the student to be employed in an area that directly relates to their studies, according to U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services.

On top of all this, the recent budget cuts not only reduced the number of faculty positions, they also decreased the amount of resources for all departments in the college. While the perception is that the college is easing its way into becoming a liberal arts science-focused school, that may not necessarily be the case.

Along with the natural science complex, the school also recently built the Center for Visual and Performing Arts, CVPA, which was completed in 2014, according to Earlham’s website.

While CST cost $17.0 million total and $392 per square foot to build, the CVPA cost $22.5 million total and $455 per square foot to build, according to Becky Thomas, Earlham’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, and Stacy Davidson, Earlham’s Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer.

According to Davidson and Thomas, “In terms of academics, different departments have different needs, so their teaching spaces and budgets may be quite different from each other. Academic departments are not financially prioritized, and financial resources have been allocated according to their differing needs.”

The majors, however, of graduating seniors do reflect a shift towards STEM fields. The percentage of seniors graduating with a natural science major has increased from 14.6% in 2013 to 23.6% in 2018, while the percentage of seniors graduating with a social science major has seen a general decline, with it making up 23.8% of majors in 2013 and 21.1% in 2018, according to data from Director of Institutional Research, Polly Albright.

There are many reasons for the college and students to move towards STEM, but several students affirm that two particularly strong and attractive aspects of the school are its liberal arts curriculum and interdisciplinary courses.

Junior computer science and theatre double major, Laurence Ruberl explained, “It is what gives people at Earlham the diversity in thought that is so prized here and elsewhere.  

“Also, because of it, I have learned things I would never have learned otherwise, like being able to take a course on international diplomacy, nor would I be able to have the double major combination that I have.”

This interdisciplinary pull is reflected in the majors of graduating seniors. Albright’s data shows that interdepartmental majors, such as neuroscience, Japanese studies, and environmental science, make up 38.7% of the majors over the last six years, larger than any other department.

Ruberl does feel both the computer science and theater departments are facing challenges; “The CS Department has more than enough students (we are the second most populous major) who really want to study it… However, where the department falters is in the number of professors.”

Ruberl continued, “They had to pull in the Dean to teach a course next semester because we don’t have enough faculty. They also had to put the intro courses at 8 AM partially to dissuade people from taking it.”

As for the theatre department, Ruperl said, “We were strongly at risk of being cut in the most recent round of budget cuts and we don’t have a large enough budget to fulfill our needs to the students in the department as well as the community.”

Bea N’Daou, a sophomore English major, is not concerned about Earlham abandoning the humanities. They said, “As a liberal arts school Earlham attracts those students interested in the humanities and the arts. So, I think by attracting those people the community of the school will mandate the continuation of the humanities and arts in the school.”

Davidson and Thomas also spoke to this aspect of Earlham, referring to how the college maintains its liberal arts education.

They said, “I think we do this quite well, with a combination of interdisciplinary study options, learning inside and outside the classroom, research and internship opportunities, programs for studying abroad, integrated pathways, and all the other opportunities we offer for students.”

Junior Rowan Hellwich, however, is a bit concerned about the history department as a history major. “I love my major but I feel the department is neglected by administration,” said Hellwich. “There are hardly enough history majors and sometimes our department feels a bit invisible.”

However, Ryan Murphy, assistant professor of history, does not believe the college will move towards STEM. Murphy said, “I’ve never been in an Earlham meeting anywhere where someone from the natural science division proposed retooling the college around that division. The college would fail.”

Photograph by Masha Morgunova

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