Female Scientists Thrive @ Harvey Mudd

Quartz: “Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, California, has been an outlier in producing female programmers for a decade. This year, for the first time, more women than men graduated with a degree in computer science. Nationally, about 16% of undergraduate computer-science majors are women. At Harvey Mudd, that figure is 55%.”

“It has done it by removing obstacles that have typically barred women—including at the faculty level. The school emphasizes teaching over research, hiring and rewarding professors on the basis of their classroom performance … And it places women in leadership positions throughout the school.”

“The school … redesigned its introductory course, required for all first-year students, to emphasize practical uses for programming and team based-projects, and switched from the Java programming language to Python, which more closely mimics the way humans communicate … To make everyone feel at ease, professors urge know-it-all students who always have their hand in the air to talk during office hours, instead of in class.”

“As a result of the changes, women who take the introductory course are more likely to leave with a positive impression of programming, and often sign up for the second class in the sequence. Many go on to internships or research projects in the field after their first year, and by then, they’re hooked.”

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Have No Fear of Freshman Year!

The New York Times: “Regardless of their credentials, many freshmen doubt that they have the necessary brainpower or social adeptness to succeed in college … If they flunk an exam, or a professor doesn’t call on them, their fears about whether they belong may well be confirmed. The cycle of doubt becomes self-reinforcing, and students are more likely to drop out … The good news is that this dismal script can be rewritten. Several recent research projects show that, with the right nudge, students can acquire ways of thinking that helps them thrive.”

“In a large-scale experiment at an unnamed school … incoming freshmen read upperclassmen’s accounts of how they navigated the shoals of university life. The accounts explained that, while the upperclassmen initially felt snubbed by their classmates and intimidated by their professors, their lives started turning around when they reached out to their instructors and began to make friends.”

“Other freshmen were introduced to research online showing that intelligence isn’t a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work … All students had ‘an initial doubt about whether they would fit in,’ the researchers point out. What changed in the experiment was that, as freshmen, the participants were more likely to be drawn into campus life, seek out academic help and live on campus.”

“Undergraduates will be more engaged and fewer will drop out if universities adopt this two-pronged approach, giving students essential psychological tools and making their success an institutional priority.”

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The Journey: How To Go To College

The Washington Post: “The truth is that most new undergraduates are woefully unprepared for the realities of college. The college search that has consumed many of them for the past year — and in some cases, for more than a year — focused largely on where to go to college, not how they should go to college … Even the best freshmen orientation programs often fail to provide students with an adequate road map for navigating the sometimes-treacherous path to graduation.”

“For undergraduates to get off to a good start, there are four critical things they need to do to be sure they eventually make it across the stage at commencement: 1. Engage with faculty … One easy way for students to build a one-on-one relationship with a professor who teaches sometimes hundreds of students in a semester is during office hours. 2. Start early with hands-on experiences … Students can no longer wait for the summer before their senior year to line up their first internship. That now needs to happen during the summer after their freshman year.”

“3. Explore the course catalog … Students should take courses that challenge them to work hard … present them with opportunities to learn from the best professors, and give them a broad foundation across multiple subjects, not just the one within their major. 4. Network with peers. Some of the most important learning that happens in college comes from peers, so students want to be surrounded by people who give them different perspectives on life and careers.”

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Super Seniors: The Six-Year Plan

The Wall Street Journal: “Low graduation rates hurt a school’s reputation, and staying enrolled for extra years adds to the tab for students. So dozens of schools and statewide systems are trying to cut back on the number of ‘super seniors’ milling about campus.”

“Schools have embraced marketing gimmicks like ‘Class of ’17’ bumper stickers to rally students around their graduation year. But they also are changing how they price a semester to make it easier to stay on pace to graduate, notifying students eligible to graduate that they should do so soon, and altering the classes offered in a given term to help students take the courses they need.”

“Nationally, four in 10 students who entered college for the first time as full-time freshmen in 2008 graduated within four years. The six-year rate hovers around 60% … Meanwhile, students who are ready to move on can struggle to get credit for how far they have come. With more than one-third of students now attending multiple institutions during their college careers, convoluted credit-transfer policies continue to slow the timeline to graduation.”

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Does High School Prep For College?

Brookings: “There is a troubling hidden pattern behind success stories of high school graduation: though the percent of students earning a diploma is at an all-time high (82 percent), college completion rates continue to stagnate at best, exacerbated by a throng of college-bound students ill-prepared for advanced courses.”

“While there are certainly many economic and cultural factors in long-term dropout rates, we argue that an overlooked hurdle to solving the problem is short-sighted measurement: education leaders too often judge high school success by high school metrics, not whether students end up with the knowledge and perseverance to attain a degree.”

“It is not that high school students are not learning. Rather, it is more likely they often learn the wrong things, do not sufficiently focus on the critical thinking commonly needed in college, or simply forget much of what they learned.”

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Should College Lectures Be Banned?

The Atlantic: “Getting rid of the college lecture entirely is the mission of a broad group of educators. Educators and administrators alike argue that active learning yields superior results to the lecture … Concerns about the lecture derive from anecdotal impressions as well as research data, including one meta analysis of 225 studies looking at the effectiveness of traditional lectures versus active learning in undergraduate STEM courses. That analysis indicated that lecturing increased failure rates by 55 percent; active learning—meaning teaching methods that are more interactive than traditional lectures—resulted in better grades and a 36 percent drop in class failure rates.”

“Still, although proponents of the movement to move away from the lecture cite data on its ineffectiveness, the debate has failed to take into account the fact that academics are rarely, if ever, formally trained in public speaking.”

“Christopher Martin, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology who has been teaching for nearly 30 years, would never give up the lecture format.” He comments: “A lecturer can take students on an intellectual journey at the speed of thought. It is a performance and the ideal is to excite and inspire, create something out of nothing in front of the students’ eyes, a form of magic.”

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Five Unusual (Very Small) Colleges

Go Local Prov: “Located in the high desert of California, Deep Springs College is home to just 26 students … The college runs a cattle herd and an alfalfa hay farming operation … Tuition, room, and board are not charged, but students work at least 20 hours a week on the ranch or in positions related to the college and community.”

“St. John’s College boasts two campuses in equally stunning settings: Santa Fe and Annapolis. Each location enrolls about 450 students. Textbooks, lectures, and examinations are shunned, in favor of a series of manuals and classroom discussions.”

“Set amidst the beauty of Maine, College of the Atlantic has just 350 students. The school’s curriculum is based on human ecology … COA students are often knee deep in experiential learning and the frigid Maine waters during their classes. The intention is for students to explore ideas from different disciplines and to construct their own understanding of human ecology.”

“Located in Vermont, Marlboro College is home to a group of 300 eclectic students … The mission of the school is to produce clear thinkers and writers. Students create their own curricula with the oversight of a professor and are given the freedom to study just about any topic.”

“Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts … was founded in 2002 and has just 350 students … it now rivals MIT and CalTech in the engineering rankings … Olin students race robotic sailing teams, travel to West Africa to help empower women entrepreneurs and design gadgets that allow seniors to get out of their cars more easily … All accepted students are granted a scholarship that covers half of their tuition for four years, which makes it among the most affordable, top-rated technical institutions in the U.S.”

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Shady Grove: The Future of Higher Ed?

The Washington Post: The Universities at Shady Grove “is a program unlike any other, with nine state universities converging at the Rockville, Md., campus, part of an effort that began 16 years ago to reduce college costs, produce an educated workforce and encourage college completion among populations that traditionally struggle to get their ­degrees.”

Shady Grove offers a way for community college students to transfer into undergraduate programs at nine of the 12 schools in the University System of Maryland, including the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Bowie State, Towson and the state flagship in College Park … Each school has its own office on campus and individual banners raised high above the quad … All classes are held in Rockville and taught by professors from the partner schools, so a student seeking a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland Baltimore County can earn the degree without ever setting foot in ­Catonsville.”

“Students pay the tuition their home school charges, but they spend less on fees tied to facilities, parking and athletics. By spending two years at Montgomery College before heading to Shady Grove, students can save an average of $8,000 on tuition and fees … Students must get accepted to one of the partner schools, but once they’re in, they have a better chance of graduating through Shady Grove than if they had transferred directly to the school. The program has a 75 percent graduation rate for transfer students, the highest in Maryland’s university system and higher than the 58 percent national average.”

“It’s a very innovative model,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “You have a public institution responding to market conditions in a way that expands access.”

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Top 10 Tips for Your Time at College

Vox: Christopher Blattman, an associate professor at Columbia University, offers 10 “suggestions to help make the most of college.” Here are a few of his ideas:

“Don’t wait until you finish law or medical school to discover you hate working in your specialty. Try early and often. Test out different careers in the summer — researcher, journalist, medical assistant, nonprofit worker, congressional aide, and so on … For anyone interested in law, public policy, business, economics, medicine — or really any profession — I suggest at least two semesters of statistics, if not more. Data is a bigger and bigger part of the work in these fields, and statistics is the language you need to learn to understand it.”

“In my experience, you learn more from great teachers than from great syllabuses … pick eight or nine classes based on the syllabus, go to them all, and then keep the four or five classes with the most engaging professors … Languages are hugely important. And you should learn another (or many others) besides English. But I think they’re better learned in immersion, during your summers or before and after college … Take writing seriously. You will use it no matter your career.”

“Use a summer or a school year to live abroad, ideally a place completely different from home, where you’ll come to know local people (and not just the expatriate community) … An independent research project can be the perfect capstone to your college years. Sadly, I often see theses that weren’t worth the students’ investment of time and energy. Some people’s time would be better spent acquiring technical skills.”

“At the end of each year of college, you should look back at your thoughts and opinions 12 months before and find them quaint. If not, you probably didn’t read or explore or work hard enough.”

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Study Abroad: The Four-Year Program

BloombergBusiness: “Many students are choosing to go further than a one-semester break and attend all four years of college in a foreign city. The number of students enrolled in college outside their countries rose 463 percent from 1975 to 2012, said a report last month by Moody’s Investors Service. International students in the U.S. have grown by 70 percent since 2005, according to the report.”

“College in Europe can be astonishingly cheap for Americans. Forty public and private colleges in continental Europe offer free bachelor’s degrees, taught in English, to Americans … An additional 98 colleges ask tuition of under $4,000 per year … European colleges want American applicants because they can charge higher tuition for non-EU residents. Americans in Europe will still pay considerably less than they would at home … The main thing that holds some Americans back from studying across the Atlantic is a fear that they’ll sacrifice quality—and North American career opportunities.”

Jennifer Viemont, “co-founder of Beyond The States, a database of 350 colleges in 30 countries that offer bachelor’s degrees taught in English,” comments: “The biggest worry people seem to have is that a name from Europe won’t carry the same weight as one from the U.S., but there’s a serious upshot of graduating a year early and with a fraction of the debt. Plus, you’ve seen the world.”

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