With the concentrations for the class of 2013 officially declared and tallied, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has seen a 12-percent bump in its total concentrators, continuing a three-year growth trend.
According to data compiled from Harvard College Facebook, 176 sophomores are studying applied mathematics, engineering, or computer science, bringing the total number of undergraduates concentrating in these fields to 465—the highest since at least 2001.
The growth this year was partially driven by a spike in student interest in computer science. Fifty-two sophomores declared concentrations in CS this year, double the number of juniors pursuing a major in the field.
Computer Science professor and former College Dean Harry R. Lewis ’68 attributed the new interest in CS primarily to the strength of Computer Science 50, the introductory coding class which drew a record number of students this year.
“CS50 has really been successful in showing people what exciting, fantastic things people can do with just a semester’s experience,” he said.
Lewis also pointed to several other potential causes for the uptick in interest, including the growing profile of SEAS as a first-rate engineering school and the recent popularity of the film ‘The Social Network,’ which gives a fictionalized account of how former Harvard CS concentrator Mark E. Zuckerberg founded Facebook.
“Everybody in America knows we do computer science because they’ve seen it on the big screen,” Lewis said. “I’m not sure that if Harvard students saw ‘The Social Network’ they would rush to major in CS, but I don’t know.”
The introduction of a new undergraduate concentration in biomedical engineering appears to have had a lesser impact on SEAS’ growth.
While the new concentration did attract 12 sophomores, SEAS Assistant Dean for Academic Programs Marie Dahleh noted that this corresponded with a drop of ten concentrators from last year in the broader engineering sciences major.
Dahleh said she therefore believed that many of the new biomedical engineering concentrators are students who would still have concentrated in engineering even if the new concentration were not an option.
“My expectation is that the concentration is new, and it will grow,” Dahleh said. She added that SEAS is currently selecting individuals to serve as permanent concentration advisers and the director of undergraduate studies for biomedical engineering, with the hope that they will be able to promote the concentration more heavily next year.
“We’re hoping that will give us more visibility among the life sciences concentrations so that students will be able to make the choice that is right for them,” Dahleh said.
—Staff writer Evan T.R. Rosenman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.