Data presented on Phase One of the CUP Experiment

Students delay GIRs more often, major selection changed

Duane Boning ’84, chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, and Ian Waitz, vice chancellor, presented updates on the first-year experiment in the faculty meeting May 15.

There was a small positive change in students’ hidden grades in the fall, and around two-thirds of students delayed one science core GIR. Students took a total of 184 fewer science core GIRs in the spring of 2019 compared to the spring of 2018. Surveys also show that mental health and happiness have decreased.

First-year students’ choice of majors has also changed this year. For instance, the percentage of first-year students who reported declaring a major in the categories of “life sciences/chem sciences” and “engineering” and in Sloan increased, while the percentage of students declaring mechanical engineering and EECS has decreased, according to data presented by Waitz.

There will be a new need for faculty to develop Discovery subjects, Waitz said. Current such subjects include 1.009 (Climate Change), 15.000 (Explorations in Management), and 3.001 (Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering). First-Year Advising Seminars and UROPs for credit will be included as Discovery subjects.

The goal of the first-year experiment was to encourage students to take additional classes outside of their majors earlier on and “increase confidence and satisfaction in major selection” and “improve long-term education outcomes,” according to a presentation by Waitz.

Waitz presented data on changes over time in questions related to students’ mental health and happiness. The percentage of first-years who reported “feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do” increased from 49 percent in 2015 to 65 percent in 2019. The percentage of upper-level students who reported on the same question increased from 61 percent in 2015 to 73 percent in 2019. Similarly, the percentage of upper-level students who reported on “feeling very sad” increased from 29 percent in 2015 to 36 percent in 2019.

During the Q&A section, Raul Radovitzky, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, said he thought that the current data “doesn’t really address potential impacts on the quality of our education” and said they should take a “more comprehensive approach.”

Catherine Drennan, professor of chemistry and biology, brought up some concerns about how teaching GIRs has changed over the years. She said that, for example, when students in the class were primarily first years, “we had fun clicker competitions — people bonded and formed teams.” She said previously the first years had been “in this together” and this was “lost now.”

The Office of the Vice Chancellor is also planning to continue data collection for both Phase One and Phase Two. They are planning to track add/drop patterns of students as well as conduct interviews and focus groups with science core instructors and TAs.