Sciences and math losing students

Kamariea Forcier

and Peter Kauffner

Nathan Hunstad, a University sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts, could have been halfway done with his science degree. Instead, he called it quits after his first month at the University of Illinois.
A Minnesota native, Hunstad was at the top of his classes in high school. He attended special college classes with other advanced high school students, and was accepted at the University of Illinois’ aeronautic engineering program.
But after one month in the program, “I didn’t want a science-based program. In a way I’m sick of science — I was kind of burned out,” he said.
Hunstad is not alone. According to a recently released study in a January issue of the Chronicle for Higher Learning, science, math and engineering majors are dropping out in record numbers.
Nationally, about 44 percent of students who start out in science, math or engineering switch to another field, the Chronicle reported.
Of the Institute of Technology students who enrolled as freshmen in the fall of 1992, 17 percent transferred to another unit within the University during the next four years, said Ronald Matross, assistant director for the Office of Planning and Information Services. That compares to 51 percent who had either graduated in the institute or were still enrolled.
Although researchers cited many reasons for the nationwide dropout rates, one main reason stood out.
“The beginning classes give students a poor and distorted image of what chemistry, math, physics, and engineering might be about,” researcher Dr. Elaine Seymour told the Chronicle.
William Beyers, coordinator for the Student Academic Support Services for CLA, said that parental expectations also play a role in why students change majors.
“Some students discover that what they thought were their parents’ expectations — definable professional objectives — are really not what their parents are most interested in. What they are most interested in is what promises a life of completion and satisfaction for their children,” said Beyers.
Dana Bacon started out as a chemistry student in the Institute of Technology’s honors program, but then switched to legal history and finally to Scandinavian studies.
“Science was something I always enjoyed. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be the doctor. I tried to make little diabetes tests,” said Bacon.
After he enrolled, Bacon discovered that other subjects has greater attraction for him.
“I had a professor who was very captivating in the field (of legal history),” Bacon said. Later, Bacon became interested in Scandinavian studies because he has Swedish ancestry and wanted to learn about his heritage.
For Hunstad, the decision was not based on impersonal lectures and large introductory courses so much as happiness.
“I didn’t think I’d find happiness (as an engineer),” he said. After reading the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Hunstad decided that the atmosphere of a science program was not for him.
Hunstad said he was concerned about the need for early specialization as a science major, and felt that played a large part in his decision to leave the school.
Hunstad said being a science major made him feel as if college were all about getting out and making money.
“I think in today’s society, the whole view of college is that you get a job where you can make more money,” he said. “That’s pretty much the only reason I’ve ever heard about going to college. And I definitely don’t think that’s the right reasons to go to college.”
As for Hunstad, he hasn’t ruled out taking science classes, but said he doesn’t see himself using it in a career.
“I may take more science classes, just for my own personal interest,” he said. “I am interested in some aspects of it, but I’m interested in knowing about it, not using it in a career.”