UA science, engineering, honors see notable increases in enrollment

August 26, 2009

By hammersmith

( – The incoming class of University of Arizona students has boosted enrollments in science and engineering while also contributing to the largest class the Honors College has ever seen. Preliminary data indicates that between 150 and 180 more freshmen have declared majors in the College of Science while the enrollment in engineering has jumped by about 60 students. This is encouraging, as science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the STEM fields – are being promoted at the UA and nationally.

“It’s a real surprise to us, but it’s great for us because, in some sense, this indicates that science is still a very popular major,” said Elliott Cheu, a physics professor and associate dean of the UA College of Science. The college is part of the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Science, but figures for psychology majors – which are now part of the College of Science – were not included in the reported figures. Increased enrollments mean more demand on course.

Cheu also noted that the UA is offering about 23 percent more seats for biology, about 18 percent more for chemistry, about 22 percent more for physics and about 11 percent more for math. “We’re seeing huge demands across the board in foundations courses,” Cheu said. Cheu said a number of factors could be driving the increases, such as the hike in Honors College students, who will often declare majors in the STEM fields and are interested in programs such as medicine and nursing, which also require coursework in the sciences. “Science leads to a lot of careers that, maybe, in this economy, look very good,” he said. Engineering and computer science are among them.

Makala Davis, an undeclared major who is taking chemistry, calculus and other courses in the College of Science, said she was drawn to the UA because of the campus climate and also because of the nursing program. “The UA was my number one choice for an in-state school,” said Davis, who said she intends to pursue nursing school. Davis, a 360 Scholar, participated in the New Start program during the summer, which she said gave her a strong introduction to the UA. “I had a good time and met a lot of new people,” she said. “People here are very welcoming and are there to help and give you support when you need it.”

Another campus unit that is seeing a boost in student enrollment is the Honors College. This year, the college admitted 1,258 new students, up from the average 800 to 850 students the college will accept each year. Of the new Honors students, 1,068 are incoming freshmen. Students in the college complete about one-quarter of their degree coursework in Honors classes, must earn at least a 3.5 grade point average and complete a thesis or capstone project. The college also admitted its largest class of National Hispanic Scholars – 92 students, up from 54 last year. Nearly 200 of the newest Honors class are transfer students, 78 are also National Merit Scholars and eight are National Achievement Scholars, a competitive program open to African American students. All told, nearly 4,000 students are in the Honors College.

Patricia MacCorquodale, the Honors College dean, said the college was keen on admitting first generation students, those interested in STEM fields and also students from underrepresented states. “The UA will be adjusting its recruitment goals for Honors students and National Scholars for 2010 in line with its resources,” MacCorquodale said. “We need to ensure that we can provide Honors classes, advising and a rich series of programs and activities for Honors students and top scholars,” she added. Consequently, the Honors College is offering a new host of programs and courses to its incoming class.

This year, the college is introducing new general education courses designed specifically to “engage students in inquiry and discovery and involve pedagogies that utilize technology and learning both in and out of the classroom,” MacCorquodale said. In one of these courses, students will study astronomy and conduct their own independent research projects. In another course, students will explore issues surrounding memory. The college also offers courses specifically designed for students who are first generation, from rural areas and who are younger than the average college student to help them become better acclimated to university life.

And the college is starting a new program this year to be held Saturday afternoons and involving students in a range of activities, such as a book discussion group and field trips along with additional academic support. Anna Dorste, an Honors College student studying psychology, said choosing the UA was not difficult. “When I started thinking about college, I knew I wanted to go in-state. The UA seriously blew me away,” she said. Dorste said she did not apply elsewhere, noting that she was drawn to the UA because of its nationwide recognition. “I couldn’t believe how many diverse courses are offered here, and there are so many learning opportunities,” she said, adding that after visitng the campus, she instantly felt close to the University. “The environment is energetic, positive and very friendly,” Dorste added. “I also feel that I can grow intellectually and as a person here, and really begin to grasp my future.”

Zachary Branch, an incoming freshman originally from San Francisco, began to envision himself at the UA years ago while visiting his older brother, who is now a UA senior. Branch, who said his family now lives in Tucson, said he was also drawn to the Eller College of Management and the honors program. I got to go to classes with him and see what the dorm life was like,” said Branch, a pre-business major, Honors student and Wildcat Excellence Scholarship recipient. “I really liked the school and the campus,” he said. “It seemed like a good fit for me.”