More Sophomores Select Course VII, XBy Lawrence K. Chang
More sophomores than ever before are majoring in biology and chemical engineering, according to the Office of the Registrar's annual report on the sophomore's declaration of majors.
The results, released earlier this month, also show that the electrical engineering and computer science department and the mechanical engineering department continue to draw the most students, though the mechanical engineering department saw a large drop in enrollment.
Despite the new trends in the individual departments, the number of students enrolled in the School of Engineering and the School of Science generally deviated little from past classes.
The School of Engineering captured the greatest student interest once again. Roughly 62 percent of the sophomores declared an engineering major, compared to 65 percent last year and 62 percent the year before. As in the past two years, 23 percent of the sophomores declared a major in the School of Science. Over 3 percent declared a major in the School of Humanities and Social Science, about the same as the last two years.
EECS continues to be a big draw
The electrical engineering and computer science department continues to grow, snagging 327 students, or 29 percent of the sophomore class.
Although mechanical engineering is still the second largest major, the number of sophomores in the department dropped this year to 126 students, down from the 163 sophomores last year. This is a decrease of 29 percent.
Professor David G. Wilson, undergraduate officer for the mechanical engineering department, said that the department has been growing slightly but steadily for the past 10 years or so. The sudden decline was unexpected, he said.
"We've always been very popular ... because [mechanical engineers] can always get employed in many different types of jobs," he said.
"We're not going to go around spinning hand springs at midways or open houses," he said. Wilson felt confident that the department would return to its previous status. "I think we will climb back up again."
The economics department had 26 sophomores join their department, up from 13 sophomores last year. Normally the majority of economic majors transfer into the department as upperclassmen, according to Professor Peter Temin PhD '64.
The number of sophomores now enrolled in the biology and chemical engineering departments has increased dramatically. Jumping 55 percent, 116 sophomores declared biology as their major, compared to 75 students last year. In another upward trend, 123 sophomores declared chemical engineering.
Increase in biology majors
The overall undergraduate student population majoring in biology increased 22 percent, from 236 to 289 students. "My initial reaction was one of surprise," said Professor Gene M. Brown, the biology department's undergraduate officer.
"Normally we see a big increase [of students] between [their] sophomore and the junior year, because a lot of people transfer in as juniors," Brown said.
Brown speculated that the sudden increase in biology's popularity could be the result of a new version of the Introductory Biology classes (7.012-4) classes, which the department began teaching two years ago. He said that the course professors are excellent, and many freshmen take one of the subjects.
"I expected that we would see a big jump in a year or two, because [introductory biology] is now required, and more freshmen would acquire interest," Brown said. But the increase of interest in biology came a year earlier than expected, he said.
In addition, "across the land, there is a general increase in people going into medicine," he said.
Brown explained that although the biology department is moving into the new building in late spring, the department is not expanding. He is not worried about the growing number of biology majors just yet.
"The limitation always is that we want to give every opportunity for the students to get research experience. With a large number of [biology] majors, this becomes difficult. So if we continue to increase at the same rate in the following years, I'd be a little concerned," Brown said.
Course X is growing
The chemical engineering department continued to grow for the third consecutive year with a 24 percent increase in sophomores. The department had increased by nine percent between the 1990-91 and 1991-92 school years.
Professor Michael C. Mohr, undergraduate officer of the chemical engineering department, explained that the number of chemical engineering majors had "wandered around for nearly 10 years," and then increased for the past three.
Mohr attributed the increasing interest in Course X to the range of opportunities that chemical engineering offers. "I think that students are starting to realize that chemical engineers enjoy a very broad [job] market," he said.
Mohr said that the growing size of the department in the past few years has caused the sophomore laboratory classes to become slightly crowded. However, there have been no serious consequences, he said.