Newton Blog

« Doses of Bacteria? Yes, Please! | Blog Home Page | Female Genitalia Are Cool, Too! »

Science Curriculums Need to Be More Innovative

Why aren't more college students choosing science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) majors? 2010 statistics show that for every new Ph.D. in the physical sciences, the U.S. graduates 50 new MBAs and 18 lawyers. In addition, the number of computer science majors in the United States has decreased by 27% from 2004-2007.

Delving deeper, the National Academy of Sciences released a new report

in 2010, called, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly

Approaching Category 5." As indicated by the ominous title, the report

shed light on some startling statistics about the state of science

education in the United States. For example:

"The United States

now ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college

students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering."

I ask again, why is this? STEM jobs pay well and they are in enormously high demand. So what's the deal?

There are plenty of reasons for this stagnancy of STEM majors, but I'd like to focus on a simple one: science education in the U.S. needs to become more innovative.

Today, college freshmen enter school, most undecided on their major, and they take a hard look at science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and might think, "This could be cool."

Then students look at the path to these majors. These roads are paved with courses like calculus, statistics, organic chemistry, physics, and hours upon hours of lectures and labs. Students might think to themselves, "This is college; it's supposed to be fun," or, "This doesn't look anything like what I want to be doing," or "A job at Facebook is not worth four years of torture." After seeing this dreary path, students might elect to become business majors instead.

The aforementioned situation is not simply due to laziness on the part of students; it's an inherent problem in the STEM curriculum. A lot of the required classes in these majors are simply not representative of the work that's being done today at places like Google, Facebook, and Apple. Those places are hip, cool, and glam. Calculus is not.

Luckily, colleges are starting to get the message and are beginning to reform their STEM curriculums. According to the New York Times:

Even universities not known for computer science or engineering, like Yale, are seizing the moment... The new curriculums emphasize the breadth of careers that use computer

science, as diverse as finance and linguistics, and the practical

results of engineering, like iPhone apps, Pixar films and robots, a

world away from the more theory-oriented curriculums of the past.

These new curriculums are a great starting point for improving participation in STEM majors, and they are already starting to have some effect. In 2010, the number of computer science degrees being awarded rose for the first time since 2004.

But let's be honest, the real reason behind the recent rise in computer science majors is due to the remarkable examples of innovators like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Colleges should ask their advice on how to improve STEM curriculums.