SEAS Expects Increase in Concentrators, Strives for Greater Diversity in School Makeup

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is projected to see increased numbers of undergraduate concentrators when sophomores declare their fields of study on Nov. 17, continuing a trend of fast growth since 2007.

According to Paul Karoff, assistant dean of communications for SEAS, the projected increase reflects a nationwide growth in science and technology fields. The School has grown from 291 concentrators in the 2007-2008 academic year to 892 concentrators in the 2015-2016 academic year.

“What we’re seeing at SEAS and at Harvard is completely consistent with the experience we’ve had in higher education in general,” Karoff said. “More and more students are finding their way to [science] fields.”

Karoff attributes increases in SEAS partially to large investments in the school from hedge fund magnate John A. Paulson and former Microsoft CEO Steven A. Ballmer ’77.

The projected increase in SEAS concentrators comes during a time of expansion for the School. By the fall of 2020, more than two thirds of departments are expected to move to a new SEAS campus in Allston.

Karoff said the increased numbers of SEAS concentrators have created pressure for teaching space.

“We’re having to be creative and repurpose spaces that hadn’t been intended as teaching space,” Karoff said. “For example, we’re using the basement level of Northwest as a flipped classroom.”

While the number of SEAS students has increased dramatically, the percentage of women and underrepresented minorities in the school has remained constant. Women currently constitute 32.2 percent of the total number of SEAS students, black students make up 5.2 percent of the undergraduate class, and Hispanic students make up 8.4 percent of the undergraduate class.

Karoff said SEAS’ inability to recruit students directly into the School due to the College-wide admissions process contributes to the current lack of diversity. Nevertheless, he emphasized the school’s commitment to inclusivity.

“We recognize that there are steps we can take to work to make our disciplines and our school as welcoming an environment as possible,” Karoff said, referring to women and underrepresented minority students.

SEAS faculty, in collaboration with groups such as Harvard Women in Computer Science, are facilitating programs to increase diversity within the School. According to Computer Science professor James H. Waldo, a committee of computer science faculty working closely with WiCS has gathered data on various aspects of minority student experience within the concentration.

“Right now, we have collected data that shows that, at least on the gender side, many of the women concentrators find the faculty less approachable than male concentrators [do],” he said.

The concentration has programs in place that encourage students to invite professors to coffee chats, and match prospective freshman concentrators of underrepresented backgrounds with a CS faculty advisor.

“The faculty takes these issues very, very seriously. We’re trying to initiate programs that will improve diversity but are also measurable,” Waldo said.

The percentage of female and underrepresented minority concentrators varies across SEAS units. Pooja Chandrashekar ’19, a member of WiCS and a biomedical engineering concentrator, said there is significant representation of both women and students of color in biomedical engineering classes.

“I’ve never felt like one of the only women or people of color,” she said. “There are definitely some upper level CS courses with very few women in the class, but I do know that SEAS is putting in a lot of money and effort into improving diversity.”

—Staff writer Jessica Kim can be reached at jessica.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Narayan T. Sundararajan can be reached at narayan.sundararajan@thecrimson.com.

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