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More Sophomores Choose Course VII

Sophomore major declarations for this year and the last 2 years.

By Venkatesh Satish
Staff Reporter

Electrical engineering and computer science drew the most sophomore majors and the biology department posted significant gains for the second year running, according to the annual report of sophomore major declarations from the Registrar's Office.

Mechanical engineering and chemical engineering, both in the top four, saw enrollment similar to last year. The physics department fell by 20 percent compared to last year, while the Sloan School of Management more than doubled in majors.

The number of total registered students fell by 7 percent, according to the report.

Despite changes across departments, the distribution of majors between the School of Engineering and the School of Science remained the same. About 62 percent of sophomores declared engineering majors and 27 percent chose science majors. Only about 3 percent declared majors in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

EECS, Biology popular

Three hundred sophomores, or 28 percent of the class, chose to major in EECS, the most popular major for the last three years.

Course VI attracts so many students because "the demand from the outside is high for EECS types," according to Professor of EECS Leonard A. Gould '48, undergraduate officer for the department.

In additional, the Master's of Engineering degree program "is a very attractive way to go through as an undergraduate," Gould said.

The level of success enjoyed by Course VI is not the result of a planned effort, Gould said. "We haven't gone out of our way to attract students other than that we have strong subjects and strong education and have continued that tradition for many years."

While the enrollment is pleasing, the department might have trouble accommodating future increases, Gould said. "I hope we stay about the same size in the future because if we get any bigger, we're going to be stretched out."

Biology, tied for second place with mechanical engineering at 130 majors, increased by 12 percent from 116 last year, up from 75 in 1992.

One reason for the continued increase is "the growing awareness of biology at MIT," said Professor of Biology Graham C. Walker, undergraduate officer for the department. The biology department has put much effort into teaching the introductory courses well, he said.

The nationwide surge in the number of pre-medical students has also contributed to the increase, Walker said. "Biology is the most common major chosen by pre-meds, although there are pre-meds in departments across the Institute," he said.

"The growing awareness in society of the impact of modern biology on health and on our lives" also helped, Walker said. He cited developments regarding the breast cancer gene and DNA testing in the O.J. Simpson case as examples of public exposure to biology.

The increase was unexpected, Walker said. "We were expecting, at most, a 10 or 20 percent increase, not a doubling in two years," Walker said. The increase might reflect a cyclical trend that all departments experience, he said.

"We're obviously excited to teach biology," Walker said. However, "it's posing some logistical challenges, particularly with respect to teaching laboratory courses."

There might also be an increase in the number of biology majors during the year as there was last year, Walker said.

Decline in physics majors

The number of sophomore physics majors decreased to 48 from 60 last year and 75 two years ago. Isabel C. Vasconcelos, undergraduate administrator in the physics department, said that the reason for the decrease is unclear.

The downward trend might be due to incorrect perceptions of physicists, Vasconcelos said. "There could be a perception that there may be less jobs available to people with a bachelor's degree in physics, which is not in fact the case," she said.

The cyclical pattern of interest observed by all fields is another possible reason for the decrease, Vasconcelos said. "I think there's a tendency for these things to go up and down, and we could be surprised next year by having more majors."

"People choose physics because they really love physics. The only thing you can do is expose people to physics, and not much more," Vasconcelos said.

Sophomore enrollment in the Sloan School of Management more than doubled from 17 last year to 35.

Reasons for the sharp rise include a perception that management has much relevance to students receiving technical degrees, said Thomas J. Allen PhD '66, senior associate dean of the School of Management. "The majority of our graduates end up in management at some point in their lives anyway, and students are realizing that."