Jamie Yarmoff, Environmental Science and Theatre major, class of 2016
>Something, or some things, aren’t working quite right. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors in particular are struggling in introductory college courses. According to a 2012 report by the President’s Council of the Advisors on Science and Technology, fewer than 40% of incoming freshmen hoping to earn a STEM-related degree end up actually following through. This poses a rather large problem.
So what is the issue? The first thing to look at is how we’re teaching our students. The Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles found that 63% of STEM professors rely on “extensive lecturing” in their classes. I, for one, was never a student for whom this was an effective teaching mechanism. Having the material thrown at me is often overwhelming, and I find it hard to transform the instructor’s words quickly enough into notes that make sense to me. I need something hands-on.
At dinner tonight in my sorority house, I was talking with some of my sisters about an upcoming theatrical production in which I’ll be performing. I had an epiphany when my pre-med friend said, “You’re so lucky you get to do what you’re doing while you’re learning it. As a pre-med, I sit there, listen, and try to learn, but it’ll be years before I’m actually out there making a difference.”
Why must it be this way? Of course, it wouldn’t exactly be wise to put a first-year pre-med student into surgery, but there has to be a more hands-on approach that will help remind students what they’re working for. I think it’s so easy for STEM majors to lose sight of what they’re working toward when, by the current learning format, the results only come at the end of four years. Clearly, some changes need to be made in the overall structure of our university-level education. Though it’s a challenge to appeal to so many different types of learners, that’s the job of the university. And I don’t really think that our current system is the most accessible method of teaching. Experimentation and collaboration are essential components in building a more effective approach to learning.
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