by Rosemaira de la Cruz.
For the first time in her life, Charlotte Ozuna, a biology major at City College, debated whether she should drop her physics class. She knew that if she did not drop the class she would have to stay up all night studying to receive even a C.
“I don’t want a low grade, but I also really didn’t want to drop the class,” Ozuna says. Now in her 4th year in college, she is still far from graduating.
Like many so called STEM students–those focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math–she’s feeling the stress.
A recent UCLA study found that approximately 40 percent of STEM students across the country change their degree majors during their college years—or drop out altogether. That is much higher than the rate of other majors.
At CCNY, which excels in the STEM areas, a sizable number of switch from science, math, engineering or technology to humanities or the social sciences. To help, last year the U.S. Department of Education awarded CCNY two grants totaling $5.7 million to improve undergraduate retention and graduate rates in subjects like earth science and engineering.
Constance Harper, a science academic advisor, says she has seen signs STEM students struggling to keep up. Many enter college thinking science classes are going to be as easy as their high school courses. “The difficulty is they come from schools that don’t really have a strong background in science,” says Harper.
According to reports, students become interested in the sciences when they are younger when lessons are more fun and interactive. As they grow older and start learning physics and calculus, they lose interest or can’t keep up.
Officials worry that America is falling behind globally and have been urging students towards STEM. “Most of the foreign students seem to do better here in the United States,” adds Harper.
Working students—which means just about everybody at CCNY—have it the hardest. “I have a part-time job and it cuts my studying time short,” says Ozuna. She started college in 2007 and is still missing about 15 credits to graduate. “My classes are so hard that I try not to overwhelm myself and only take three classes per semester.” A social life is far from Ozuna’s mind right now.
Eduardo Juarez, is also barely hanging on. Another biology major, he works a part-time job at a restaurant. “I can’t afford to lose my job; I need to help my mother out,” says Juarez. He is now taking three classes this semester. “This will be my last semester as a biology student,” says Juarez who is transferring to John Jay and switching to an EMT program.
It’s this pressure that leads some students in CCNY to change their majors to something easier or at least think about it. Luis Miguel Burgos, a former engineering student at CCNY, failed his math classes and had to transfer to a two-year college. “I went into the engineering program right after high school and the classes were really difficult for me,” says Burgos.
Of course, many students do stick it out-and enjoy it. “Electrical engineering is not as difficult,” says Marcelino Yax, an engineering major. “If you pay attention to what professors say you will do fine.
Adds Diego Vivas, another engineering major: “I love what I do and that motivates me to move forward.”
Harper advises STEM students to dig in their heels, and seek support, including tutoring. “It’s now up to the students to make their way to these areas.”