With small numbers, AU STEM students find community
"I think that AU has an increasing focus on becoming a STEM school."
From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2023 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
Ariane Raymond spends her weekends in the Hall of Science, surrounded by dry-erase markers and walls of handwritten chemistry problems. Some weekends involve 18 hours of studying.
Raymond, a junior studying chemistry and biochemistry on a pre-med track, said she has always wanted to be a doctor. She was drawn to American University with the Hall of Science and opportunities in the nation’s capital.
“I really wanted to be in D.C., and in high school, I got really involved in activism and politics and really fell in love with that sort of stuff and wanted to be somewhere close to that,” Raymond said. “I always still wanted to be pre-med, always wanted to be involved in medicine.”
The Hall of Science, constructed in 2020, is home to AU’s biology, environmental science, chemistry and neuroscience departments.
Zachary Cutler, a sophomore biochemistry major, said he toured other schools prior to AU and was unimpressed by some schools’ secondhand lab equipment. The Hall of Science, however, caught his eye.
“It’s brand new, all the equipment is great. It sparkles. You go in and you’re like, ‘I’m in the future,’” Cutler said.
Although data from the 2021-22 Academic Data Reference Book shows STEM majors make up less than 16 percent of AU’s undergraduate population, the University’s website says science is the fastest-growing area of undergraduate study.
Cutler said he is glad to be part of a close-knit community at AU, especially since STEM students are in the minority.
“As much as it would be nice to have more STEM students, everyone knows who you are and everyone talks to each other,” Cutler said “... Everyone knows who everyone is in their field, which is nice.”
Raymond, who initially thought she would be talked over in what she thought would be mainly male-dominated classes, said she feels represented.
“Most of my classes are women,” Raymond said. “... There’s also a pretty large queer community within the STEM department and so I always really enjoy that.”
Some STEM students, however, say finding community at AU is not as easy. Being known as one of the nation’s most politically active college campuses, being in less common majors comes with its own set of challenges. Collin Coil, a junior studying mathematics and data science, said he considered transferring schools for this reason.
“I would caution other students who want to come to AU as a STEM student,” Coil said. “You would be in the minority; you would mostly be ignored. It is not good for any student to come to AU who is not political science, international studies or something we’re well known for.”
Coil is a member of AU’s chapters of American Statistical Association and the Association for Computing Machinery, neither of which is currently active, he said. Coil is involved in three research teams, studying gender in congressional witness panels, international macro finance and generative artificial intelligence.
“I find that most of my research opportunities have to be outside of [the College of Arts and Sciences] and are actually in government or finance departments,” Coil said.
A member of the CAS dean’s advisory council, Coil said he proposes changes to the council that the University administration can make to better represent STEM students, such as increased funding for undergraduate STEM research.
“I’ve also been engaged with other University [leaders] who have discussed ambitions to become more of a STEM school,” Coil said. “I think that these ambitions are more planned instead of being in the process at the moment, but I think that AU has an increasing focus on becoming a STEM school.”
Maggie Seidel, a junior chemistry major, tabled for AU’s Preview Day on Feb. 20 in hopes of being able to share her experiences with prospective students.
“I wish I would have talked to somebody in my shoes when I came to one of those events to actually hear from the student how it is ...” Seidel said. “And it would’ve been so nice to know that [professors are] so accessible here and they’re truly rooting for you.”