SEAS Concentration Gains Popularity

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is growing yet again—with 220 new sophomores, SEAS saw a 62 percent increase in total concentrators this week, according to tentative data provided by the school.

The increase also marks a 25 percent jump from the 175 juniors who declared as SEAS concentrators last fall.

“The growth is fantastic,” said David A. Weitz, professor of applied physics. “I know that SEAS is working hard to attract people.”

All five concentrations offered by the school—applied mathematics, biomedical engineering, computer science, and engineering sciences AB and SB—have seen an increase in the number of concentrators since last year. SEAS’ 576 concentrators represent approximately 12 percent of the undergraduate population, according to SEAS’s preliminary data.

Biomedical engineering, which was first offered last fall, experienced the biggest jump—38 percent—between the number of sophomore and junior concentrators.

Professors said that growth at SEAS mirrors trends across the nation.

“The economic climate is such that perhaps people are seeing engineering as an option that is likely to lead to a good career,” said computer science professor J. Gregory Morrisett.

SEAS has made a conscious effort to bolster freshman advising and its web presence, according to Harry R. Lewis ’68, computer science professor and former dean of the College. But professors also credited the strength of introductory courses with pulling students into SEAS.

“In my mind David Malan and CS50 are a huge part of the growth in CS in particular,” said computer science professor Margo I. Seltzer ’83. “The way that David has made CS50 both relevant and fun and approachable for a large segment of people has gotten a lot more people to consider doing computer science.”

Ali A. Farag ’14, who declared the bachelor of arts track of engineering sciences, said that Engineering Sciences 51: Computer-Aided Machine Design, and its final project—designing and building an all terrain vehicle—significantly contributed to his concentration decision.

But as SEAS’ numbers rise, maintaining faculty-student ratios and adequate resources is an important priority.

“The challenge is, how do we scale good teaching and learning when these classes get so big?” explained Morrisett.

“We can’t certainly increase the faculty by 20 percent,” said Eric Mazur, area dean for applied physics, adding that professors will need to work harder to accommodate more students.

Maria E. Bendana ’14, who plans to get a bachelor of sciences degree in engineering, said that attending a more focused engineering institution would have offered her a broader palette of courses.

“It’s a little bit disappointing,” she said. “At the same time, I know SEAS is brand new.”

But Morrisett noted that as a liberal arts institution, the University is in a unique position to promote “21st century engineering,” an increasingly interdisciplinary arena.

Rapidly expanding connections between engineering and the humanities—through social networking and online advertising, for example—are expanding engineering’s reach, he said.

“I think we’re at a really interesting point ... Engineering and humanities [are] poised to really take off,” he said.

—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at radhikajain@college.harvard.edu.

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