Expanding STEM would put GW ahead of its D.C. peers

University President Thomas LeBlanc introduced plans this summer to expand the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics students while dropping total undergraduate enrollment by 20 percent. Critics have argued that expanding the School of Engineering and Applied Science would weaken GW’s prestigious liberal arts programs, but expanding SEAS could actually do more good than bad.

Growing the number of STEM students could allow the University to enhance its reputation as a research institution by expanding its research endeavors in humanities, social sciences and STEM. The University could also grow to become a more well-rounded institution, with strong departments in both the humanities and sciences.

LeBlanc said increasing the percentage of STEM students will help GW catch up to other universities – and it will also place GW ahead of other colleges in the District. American and Georgetown universities do not have engineering majors but instead offer combined engineering degree programs through Columbia University. Combined degree programs do not demonstrate strong science departments, because the schools are leaning on other institutions to educate STEM students.

Paying more attention to the STEM department could make GW more marketable compared with other D.C. schools. Students could be attracted to colleges in the District because of their city location and proximity to national politics, but a wider range of students with different academic interests – including sciences and social sciences – may be attracted to study at GW instead of Georgetown or American.

Expanding SEAS could also grow the University’s global diversity. Officials aim to increase the undergraduate international student population from 12 to 15 percent by 2022, and admitting more STEM students could help them achieve that goal. SEAS is one of the most globally diverse schools at GW, with international students making up more than 30 percent of the school’s population, according to institutional data. The University could grow its international reputation by allowing more STEM students into the department.

By continuing to build a reputation as the best STEM program in D.C., GW can expand its national reputation. GW is in a premier location for students interested in government, and one of the University’s biggest attractions is the exceptional internship opportunities available with government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

But there are also several opportunities for STEM majors to gain experience in the District. Federal agencies and private companies like Amazon need STEM students, and GW should lead the charge in welcoming more STEM students into the District to pursue careers and internships in an expanding field. The demand for STEM majors in the job market is also higher than the demand for those in humanities and social sciences, and admitting more STEM students brings a greater likelihood that their graduates will land jobs after graduation.

The University’s goal to grow its focus on the science departments can help GW boost its prestige in the District and grow the proportion of international students. We may think we need diplomats and politicians to save the day, but we also need an adequate number of scientists and engineers. LeBlanc’s decision to expand SEAS will benefit the GW community by increasing global diversity and advancing the University in its graduates’ job prospects and reputation.

Semon Makar Zekry, a freshman majoring in international affairs and economics, is an opinions writer.

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