Trading places: Engineering vs. Arts and Letters, part 2
William Miller | Monday, February 13, 2012
I’m a political science/Arabic double-major, and my classes are interesting, the workload is manageable and I have time to do things outside of the classroom. As I visited my friend’s classes over the last week, I found that this is not the case for most engineers. The students themselves are smart, talented and good-humored. The major, however, does these students no credit, and creates a situation where some of our most talented students consistently struggle despite their best efforts.
The first thing I noticed was that everyone in the engineering classroom looked like they’d had a long night. I asked the guy sitting next to me what he’d done the night before. His answer? A homework assignment that took eight hours … and had only four problems. This alone was enough to shock me, but the surprises were only beginning. During class the professors spoke quickly and would not walk students through formulas and proofs. The professors clearly knew the material, but students often had to choose between writing the formulas themselves or writing down the professor’s commentary. As a result, many people had stopped taking notes halfway through class, preferring instead to listen to the professor’s comments. The problem with this is that the commentary and formulas need to go together. With only a formula people will constantly be confused. But without the formula on paper, it’s difficult to connect the professor’s comments with their actual implementation.
During one class someone mentioned an engineering final from the year before. Everyone laughed in the way that you laugh when recalling an unpleasant dating experience or a particularly gruesome injury. The average on the final? Rumored to be less than 60 percent. So why did these students get an average grade of less than 60 percent? It turns out that the professors make the tests so difficult that no one can do particularly well. As a result, it’s simply a dogfight in which engineers are battling the curve and not the material.
The final thing I noticed was that many engineers aren’t as involved outside of the classroom. I have time for two jobs, sports and several clubs. My engineering friends? Not as much. The result is a major where some of our best and brightest consistently struggle, don’t learn as much as they could and don’t have the chance to get as involved outside of the classroom. Now I respect the engineers even more.