Posts about undergraduate education

Women Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering and Math

graph of science and engineering degrees by gender in the USA 1966-2005

The graph shows college degrees granted in the USA. This topic sets up one for criticism, but I believe it is more important to examine the data and explore the possible ideas than to avoid anything that might be questioned by the politically correct police. An import factor, to me anyway, is that women are now graduating from college in far higher numbers than men. And in many science fields female baccalaureate graduates outnumber male graduates (psychology [67,000 to 19,000], biology[42,000 to 26,000], anthropology, sociology [20,000 to 8,000]) while men outnumber women in others (math [7,000 to 6,000], engineering [53,000 to 13,000], computer science [39,000 to 11,000], physics [3,000 to 900]).

Data on degrees awarded men and women in the USA in 2005, from NSF*:

Field Bachelors
Women Men Women Men Women Men
Biology 42,283   25,699 4,870   3,229 3,105   3,257
Computer Science 11,235   39,329 5,078   12,742 225   909
Economics 8,141   17,023 1,391   2,113 355   827
Engineering 13,197   52,936 7,607   26,492 1,174   5,215
Geosciences 1,660   2,299 712   973 243   470
Physics 903   3,307 427   1,419 200   1,132
Psychology 66,833   19,103 12,632   3,444 2,264   211
Sociology 20,138   8,438 920   485 343   211
All S&E 235,197   230,806 53,051   66,974 10,533   17,405

What does this all mean? It is debatable, but I think it is very good news for the efforts many have made over the last few decades to open up opportunities for women. I still support efforts to provide opportunities for girls to get started in science and engineering but I think we have reached the day when the biggest concern is giving all kids better math and science primary education (and related extracurricular activities). Also continued focus and effort on the doctorate and professional opportunities for women is warranted.
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$60 Million for Science Teaching at Liberal Arts Colleges

HHMI Awards $60 Million to Invigorate Science Teaching at Liberal Arts Colleges

A year ago, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute issued a challenge to 224 undergraduate colleges nationwide: identify creative new ways to engage your students in the biological sciences.

Now 48 of the nation’s best undergraduate institutions will receive $60 million to help them usher in a new era of science education. This includes the largest number of new grantees in more than a decade; more than a quarter have never received an HHMI grant before.

Colleges in 21 states and Puerto Rico will receive $700,000 to $1.6 million over the next four years to revitalize their life sciences undergraduate instruction. HHMI has challenged colleges to create more engaging science classes, bring real-world research experiences to students, and increase the diversity of students who study science.

Creating interdisciplinary science classes and incorporating more mathematics into the biology curriculum were among the major themes proposed by the schools. Many schools will also allow more students to experience research through classroom-based courses and summer laboratory programs.

HHMI is the nation’s largest private supporter of science education. It has invested more than $1.2 billion in grants to reinvigorate life science education at both research universities and liberal arts colleges and to engage the nation’s leading scientists in teaching. In 2007, it launched the Science Education Alliance, which will serve as a national resource for the development and distribution of innovative science education materials and methods.

Related: $60 Million in Grants for Universities (2007)Genomics Course For College Freshman Supported by HHMI at 12 Universities$600 Million for Basic Biomedical ResearchFunding Medical Researchposts on science and engineering funding

Who Killed the Software Engineer?

Computer Science Education: Where Are the Software Engineers of Tomorrow? by Dr. Robert B.K. Dewar and Dr. Edmond Schonberg

Over the last few years we have noticed worrisome trends in CS education. The following represents a summary of those trends:
1. Mathematics requirements in CS programs are shrinking.
2. The development of programming skills in several languages is giving way to cookbook approaches using large libraries and special-purpose packages.
3. The resulting set of skills is insufficient for today’s software industry (in particular for safety and security purposes) and, unfortunately, matches well what the outsourcing industry can offer. We are training easily replaceable professionals.

As faculty members at New York University for decades, we have regretted the introduction of Java as a first language of instruction for most computer science majors. We have seen how this choice has weakened the formation of our students, as reflected in their performance in systems and architecture courses.

Every programmer must be comfortable with functional programming and with the important notion of referential transparency. Even though most programmers find imperative programming more intuitive, they must recognize that in many contexts that a functional, stateless style is clear, natural, easy to understand, and efficient to boot.

An additional benefit of the practice of Lisp is that the program is written in what amounts to abstract syntax, namely the internal representation that most compilers use between parsing and code generation. Knowing Lisp is thus an excellent preparation for any software work that involves language processing.

This is an excellent article: any CS students or those considering careers as programmers definitely should read this. Also read: Computer Science Education.

via: Who Killed the Software Engineer?

Dewar, a professor emeritus of computer science at New York University, believes that U.S. colleges are turning out programmers who are – there’s no nice way to say this – essentially incompetent.

Related: A Career in Computer ProgrammingProgramming Grads Meet a Skills Gap in the Real WorldProgramming RubyWhat you Need to Know to Be a Computer Game ProgrammerHiring Software DevelopersWhat Ails India’s Software Engineers?

Open Access Education Materials

Watch a video of Richard Baraniuk (Rice University professor speaking at TED) discussing Connexions: an open-access education publishing system. The content available through Connexions includes short content modules such as:

What is Engineering??:

Engineering is the endeavor that creates, maintains, develops, and applies technology for societies’ needs and desires.

One of the first distinctions that must be made is between science and engineering.

Science is the study of what is and engineering is the creation of can be.

and: Protein Folding, as well as full courses, such as: Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering I and Physics for K-12.

Related: Google technical talk webcasts (including a presentation by Richard Baraniuk at Google) – podcasts of Technical Talks at Googlescience podcast postsBerkeley and MIT courses online

Improving Undergraduate Science Education

The Meyerhoff Scholarship Program program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County uses innovative strategies to improve the performance of undergraduate science students.

At the start of their freshman year, all Meyerhoff Scholars attend an accelerated six-week residential program, called Summer Bridge, which includes course work, cultural explorations and meetings with leaders in science and technology. Summer Bridge sets up patterns for work and study that will shape student’s experiences for their years at UMBC and beyond.

Rather than fostering a climate of competition, the program stresses cooperation and collaboration. Scholars rely on mutual support and continually challenge each other to do more, creating a positive learning environment.

Why American College Students Hate Science by Brent Staples:

The students are encouraged to study in groups and taught to solve complex problems collectively, as teams of scientists do. Most important, they are quickly exposed to cutting-edge science in laboratory settings, which demystifies the profession and gives them early access to work that often leads to early publication in scientific journals.

While the need to improve science and engineering education is real we should remember that many good efforts exist. Expanding on the good efforts that exist and continuing to improve education system will benefit not just those students that participate but all of us that benefit from the work they will do.

”It’s Cool to Be Smart” by Kate Swan:

The strategy is working. When UMBC researchers compared the performance of early Meyerhoff graduates with that of students who had qualified for the program but gone elsewhere, Meyerhoff Scholars were twice as likely to graduate with an engineering, math, or science degree, and more than five times as likely to attend graduate school in those fields.