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CME To See Increase in MIT Participants

By Kelley Rivoire

STAFF REPORTER

Thirty-seven applications have been submitted by MIT sophomores for the 2004-2005 Cambridge-MIT Exchange (CME) program. Currently, 28 MIT juniors are studying at Cambridge University as part of the program.

Margaret S. Enders, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, said she estimates that approximately 35 MIT students will attend Cambridge University this fall, even though the program can accommodate 50 students from each university. This is mainly because of a lack of applications from MIT.

MIT sophomores can still apply to the CME for the 2004-2005 year.

Interest different among majors

In order to make a relatively equal exchange, the number of students who can come from Cambridge is limited to some extent by the number of applications from MIT. Enders said that typically, more Cambridge students than MIT students apply, so it is more difficult for Cambridge students to be admitted to the program.

In addition, the number of students who can come from each department at Cambridge is limited by the number of MIT students from each department who attend. Since aerospace, mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering are all under the same department at Cambridge University, they have more flexibility in choosing the students.

CME had 27 MIT participants in its first full year and 44 in its second, making its drop to 28 last year surprising.

Enders said that she believes several factors contribute to the changes in the number of applicants each year. In the first year of the program, “students had trouble with exams because we didn't prepare them adequately,” she said, speculating that this led to negative feedback about the program.

“Every year, we do better” preparing MIT students for study at Cambridge through activities such as orientation sessions, she said. This may have led to this year's increase in applicants, she said.

Twelve MIT departments are currently involved in the exchange, and the program will expand to include Brain and Cognitive Sciences (course IX) next year, Enders said.

This year’s applicants included an unusually large number of students majoring in Aeronautics and Astronautics (course XVI) but no students majoring in Mathematics (course XVIII). Therefore, math majors from Cambridge will not be able to participate in the exchange.

Professor S. Mark Spearing, the faculty member in charge of the CME program for course XVI, said that 11 sophomores from his department applied to the exchange, and ten have been accepted.

In previous years of the exchange, only a few course XVI students attended Cambridge. Spearing said he was not sure why the participation increased this year.

Future of program promising

Although it is likely that current funding for the Cambridge-MIT Institute, the parent program of CME, will end in 2006, the CME is expected to continue as an independent program.

Currently, the CME has funding for at least two years, said Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine, who said that he is working to “achieve endowment for incremental expenses students incur” through their participation in the program such as travel, college fees, and additional health insurance costs.

For each student, these expenses usually amount to around $5000, meaning that if 50 students from each institution participate in the exchange, the cost per year comes to $500,000, an amount Redwine describes as “significant but not completely unmanageable.”

Enders said that the future of the program seems promising commenting, “I can’t see it not continuing for any reason.”

Universities consider changes

Responses from students and faculty on both sides of the exchange have led to many changes at MIT and Cambridge.

Cambridge students typically do not participate in undergraduate research, said McKinley, and exchange students who have participated in MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program have usually enjoyed it. Because of this and remarks from MIT students saying they missed the research opportunities while overseas, program coordinators are now trying to provide UROP opportunities in Cambridge said Redwine.

Comments from students at both universities are also leading to changes at MIT. In upcoming years, problem sets will be reevaluated as a learning tool, said Redwine. Redwine said that the pressure to complete weekly problems sets may leave students with a lower level of understanding. The April issue of the Faculty Newsletter includes an article on the program that mentions Cambridge students frequently complained that MIT students “tend to lose sight of everything but what is due the next day.”

In addition, because of positive responses of MIT students to Cambridge’s supervisions -- in which small student groups discuss example problems with advisors -- Mechanical Engineering (course II) is proposing an educational experiment to allow next year’s sophomores to replace their recitations with supervisions, said McKinley.

Views on exchange programs vary

Sophomores participating in the exchange next year have high hopes for their time in England.

“Since high school, I was interested in doing a study abroad,” said Jamie J. Shin ’06, a course XIV major who will participate in the exchange next year. “I just want to see something different,” she said.

“I wanted to experiment with a new environment,” said Xue S. Li ’06, who has also been accepted into next year’s program. She has goals for the year abroad that extend beyond academics: “I can’t wait to pick up a Cockney accent,” she said.

Other students are content to remain at MIT. Christian R. Ruiz ’06 said he thinks his MIT education is better than anything Cambridge could provide. “I’m majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. MIT is the place to be for engineering. Why would I go to Cambridge?” he said.

Redwine cited this sentiment as a common reason MIT students do not pursue study abroad programs. “Many MIT students have the feeling that ‘This is the place I really want to be.’ That’s understandable, but I do think it’s a little short-sighted,” he said. He hopes students will consider the benefits of studying abroad before dismissing the option.