When Science Majors Take Non-Science Courses

When Neuroscience and Biochemistry majors show up in my Introduction to Literary Studies class, it’s usually because they’re thinking ahead to med-school applications that will require them to have taken an English class. But something more interesting often happens on the path toward checking off that box.

toolsWhen I ask students to write a proposal for an original research project about literature, the science students are surprised to discover that this assignment comes easier to them than to many fledgling English majors. Steeped in the scientific method, they readily grasp the work a research proposal must do: identify a problem, form a hypothesis, design a way to verify it.

But what happens when these students leave English class and return to the lab? What impact does their exposure to a different discipline have on their work in their major field? How does an undergraduate science major’s whole curriculum—her multidisciplinary, “four-year classroom“—work to develop her skills as a critical thinker and a scientist?
To consider just such questions, the Center for Teaching and Learning is pleased to welcome to campus this month Lee Cuba and Adele Wolfson of Wellesley College, co-investigators on the New England Consortium on Assessment and Student Learning (NECASL).  Please join us at their talk:

“Two Cultures or One? Student Engagement of Liberal Arts College STEM Majors within and outside of Science”

Thursday, October 24 — Common Hour

abstract: How do STEM students integrate the content and skills from their non-science courses into their major? Drawing on interviews with STEM majors participating in a panel study at seven liberal arts colleges, Cuba and Wolfson develop a typology based on patterns of course enrollment and orientation toward non-science courses. Their findings have implications for faculty and administrators seeking to expand opportunities for the type of integrative learning necessary to addressing complex, global issues.

Lee Cuba is professor of sociology and former dean of the college at Wellesley College. His research is concerned with the acquisition and meaning of place identities, including, most recently, the question of how college students acquire a sense of “at-homeness” on their campuses. He is Principal Director of the New England Consortium on Assessment and Student Learning (www.wellesley.edu/NECASL), a longitudinal study of the Class of 2010 involving seven selective liberal arts colleges funded by the Teagle, Spencer and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations.  This collaboration seeks to better understand the intellectual, social and personal engagement of students as they progress through college.

Adele Wolfson is Nan Walsh Schow ’54 and Howard B. Schow Professor in the Physical and Natural Sciences, and Professor of Chemistry, at Wellesley College. A researcher in the area of protein biochemistry, Wolfson is also an educational researcher working on core concepts in biochemistry, retention of women and minorities in science. She is a collaborator in the NECASL study seeking to understand how students at selective liberal arts colleges to understand how students connect learning in science and non-science courses

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