SEAS Boasts Advising Based On Classwork, Cake, and Nerdy Camaraderie

While the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has almost doubled in undergraduate enrollment since 2008, the rapidly growing school has nevertheless maintained a firm commitment to intimate, faculty-led advising.

The growth that has defined the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences since its creation in 2007 has inspired new concentrations, expanded infrastructure, and changed pedagogical styles. As the department has grown from 299 undergraduate concentrators in 2008 to 578 in 2012, the increased number of concentrators has posed concerns regarding the extent to which SEAS can maintain a sustainable advising framework. But SEAS remains boldly confident that it can handle its popularity.

“More concentrators are certainly welcome,” computer science professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 says. “We’re going to work to maintain the strength of our advising.”

CATERING TO THE INDIVIDUAL

Over the years, engineering concentrators have stressed the value of personal advising experiences including one-on-one interactions with professors, tours of labs, and research opportunities. At SEAS, many of these perks have traditionally been facilitated by the smaller size of the school’s concentrations.

“The small size is a great advantage,” says biomedical engineering concentrator Jermaine B. Heath ’14. “The ability to engage with the faculty on a personal level...motivates students to think critically about concepts presented in class.”

Carolina I. Ragolta ’13 says she chose Harvard over other schools with bigger engineering programs specifically because of SEAS’ more intimate size.

“I immediately felt a sense of community that was not present at colleges with much larger engineering departments, or even in other larger concentrations here at Harvard,” she says.

Students say that this size, even as the school grows, helps them as they focus in very specialized areas within the broader framework of their concentrations. They still remark on the highly personalized guidance they receive in those areas.

Maura D. Church ’14, an applied mathematics concentrator focusing in music, says that sitting down with applied mathematics advisers who were familiar with course offerings at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was crucial in establishing her plan of study.

“Not only must advisers have a good sense of the applied mathematics discipline, but they must also be very familiar with offerings in other disciplines to help students figure out exactly what they want to do with their concentrations,” Church says.

Every undergraduate receives a faculty adviser. Moreover, because of the attention that a number of SEAS professors have focused on student design within their courses, the department has reinforced the advising structure within courses as well—a microcosm of the concentration guidance system. In classes such as Engineering Sciences 50: “Introduction to Electrical Engineering” and Engineering Sciences 227: “Medical Device Design,” for instance, students have looked to professors and outside specialists for help on their own research projects.

“They made sure that there were always experts there in whatever area you were interested in pursuing,” says Kayla M. Shelton ’13, who took ES50 this semester. “You’re never all by yourself.”

ADAPTIVE FACULTY

Many concentrations have introduced social initiatives to strengthen the sense of community amongst students. Applied mathematics, for example, holds weekly thesis meeting sessions, presents weekly cake social hours, and is discussing the possibility of creating smaller community structures based on student application area.

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