Could the Humanities Separate our STEM Degree Programs from Bootcamps?

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Dr. Anne-Marie Núñez, Professor of Educational Studies at The Ohio State University, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the ethical questions our society asks STEM technologists to determine for us today, and whether or not they have the global citizenship awareness to answer them well.

What kind of people are we attracting to technology-related fields?

Computer science is an individualistic and competitive major, perhaps even more so than some of the other science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical fields. And even in comparison with other majors, computer science tends to have a rigid core sequence. 

Computer science majors often have fewer opportunities to take electives. There isn’t room in their schedules. To be fair, a lot of programs in computer science do incorporate an ethics class, but it’s not often integrated into other coursework. 

The lack of integration may challenge computer science students when they’re developing their sense of global citizenship.


How Computer Science Majors Shift Their Beliefs at College

Dr. Núñez looked into that question of global citizenship development among students in different majors. She created 4 measures that integrate 4 attribute statements for students to agree/disagree with:

  1. I’m actively working to foster justice in the world. 
  2. I frequently think about the global problems of our time and how I will contribute to resolving them. 
  3. I’m currently taking steps to improve the lives of others. 
  4. I’m actively learning about people across the globe who hold different religious and cultural perspectives from me. 

She surveyed students at 122 institutions around the country, measuring global citizenship in their first year and at the end of their college careers. With the data in hand, Dr. Núñez could desegregate what she learned by major. She determined that students in most majors improved on this measure. But not computer scientists. They declined the most.

Next Steps to Bring This Conversation to the Curriculum

So how can we change things? 

First, increase the room for electives in computer science programs. It’s tough to carve out that space in terms of requirements in the curriculum. So what’s most realistic is to integrate the humanities within the existing curriculum. 

For a school that serves a lot of Latinx students, perhaps they could have culturally relevant assignments like generating a program that translates a language into Spanish. Alternatively, schools could offer one-credit courses to provide supplemental material that might expose students to ideas beyond their majors.

Then, improve the STEM environment for women and people of color who might not see themselves reflected in the faculty or have exposure to role models. One organization that’s working on this is the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI). They has explored how active and collaborative learning can help facilitate a global citizenship mindset in an otherwise competitive environment. That might mean introducing internships or hiring more diverse faculties. 

Students in departments that don’t offer a lot of collaboration can form a professional club themselves. In a gaming club, for example, students can do something together, make friends, and maybe study in groups. The club helps build those teamwork skills employers are looking for.

Everyone’s concerned about the STEM curriculum, but the co-curriculum is what higher education can offer that sets it apart from a coding bootcamp or other technology career-training experience.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Anne-Marie Núñez of The Ohio State University. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.