Leading universities across the country saw a rapid expansion in science, technology, engineering and math focused majors in the last decade, and the University of Wisconsin is no exception.
Studies by departments in STEM fields show the number of degree recipients in STEM majors has risen from 35 percent to 40 percent between 2000 and 2013, according to the UW Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research.
Jake Blanchard, an engineering physics professor, said this growing interest is primarily due to the economy. He said students are attracted to those fields because the job market is strong in those particular areas.
“Our students are problem solvers,” Blanchard said. “They want to help solve big issues. Now is a perfect time to apply technology to help solve problems.”
Blanchard said this recent report is not anything shocking or new, and they’ve seen it coming for a while now. This year’s entering class is the biggest yet and things are shifting all the time in these departments, he said.
Efforts are ongoing to broaden interest in STEM fields nationally, and there are many important issues in the world that have science and engineering solutions that increase interest, said Jennifer Sheridan, research director at the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute.
“We see the department struggling to account for student demand within restrictions of the budget,” Sheridan said. “They have been very creative as we don’t want to turn people away that have the desire to be engineers.”
Blanchard said they are focusing on engaging students more during class time, having fewer large lectures and encouraging more active learning through the curriculum changes.
“Through education, we are increasing the active learning approach and through research, techniques are constantly evolving so it is important to keep up with it,” Blanchard said.
He said course sizes are growing as interest increases, which drives the need to move to bigger lecture halls and remodel classrooms. The Engineering Department’s active learning labs were lightly used in the past but are now are used back-to-back almost all day, Blanchard said.
This interest is not growing as rapidly across the country, only noticeably in the top 20 engineering schools, he said.
“Students are showing more interest in going to top engineering schools and studying there,” Blanchard said. “The lesser-known schools are displaying a slow, manageable increase.”