Published May 10, 2017
In his annual address yesterday to the voting faculty, President Satish K. Tripathi discussed significant increases in the number of students nationwide pursuing majors within the STEM fields at colleges and universities across the country — including UB.
Tripathi said the trend is principally driven by the national and global economies, which are experiencing a pressing demand for professionals with backgrounds and expertise in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math.
“Our society is digital, multicultural and global,” Tripathi said. “Professional work increasingly revolves around technology and the life sciences.
“Parents and students are following these trends closely and are concerned about realizing a return on the significant investment of a college education. At the same time, they are well aware of the bright forecast for STEM graduates.”
This, Tripathi added, means a good job after graduating and a promising, long-term career path.
Secondary schools from K through 12 also are responding to the growing demand for STEM expertise.
Tripathi told faculty members that schools are accomplishing this by investing more heavily in specialized STEM courses, state-of-the art classroom technology and an abundance of STEM enrichment opportunities, including STEM clubs, career fairs and college prep events.
“What this means is that nationally, and here at UB, we are seeing higher-than-ever enrollment in majors such as engineering and the biomedical sciences,” Tripathi said, “while programs in the humanities and some of the social sciences are undersubscribed.”
Tripathi said UB has followed this enrollment shift closely.
“Nationally, we see this playing out in survey data from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and from what we can tell, it is not a mere passing trend, but a long-term change with lasting implications on higher-education institutions, including UB.”
Tripathi said UB administrators have had to consider how to make the university’s humanities and arts programs both increasingly relevant and palatable to students and parents so they can see how these degrees can also translate into thriving, successful careers.
“Our deans and department chairs have given this careful thought and responded with programs and initiatives aimed at highlighting the practical, real-world value of an arts and humanities degree,” he said.
Tripathi told the group this includes the Graduate School’s Professional Pathways initiative, which is focused on:
Tripathi said the initiative is supported by a $1.75 million grant from SUNY’s Expanded Investment and Performance Fund, allowing UB to be a national exemplar in reversing this decline.
“Additionally, as part of this, UB is creating a number of interdisciplinary degree and professional development programs that give our students in the humanities and arts a distinct edge,” he said.
“This includes certificates, degree programs and micro degrees allowing students to combine the skills associated with a liberal arts education. Studies have shown education in core competencies can increase a liberal arts student’s job prospects by almost 50 percent and raise the annual starting salary by over $6,000.”
To date, Tripathi said, UB has submitted 12 new and expanded degree programs to SUNY, including new master’s programs in, among other areas:
Through this program, university administrators also are working in partnership with the College of Arts and Sciences on new programs in:
Tripathi also said CAS has opened an Experiential Learning Center that works closely with students to provide opportunities that enhance academic learning; integrate theory and practice; and promote professional development through internships, research, service learning and other hands-on learning experiences.
Tripathi told the group he recalled a New York Times article in which Google’s chief human resources officer shared the criteria the company uses in hiring.
“Rather than focusing on things like class rank, transcripts, test scores, aptitude in computer science and coding,” he said, “Google considers a very personal set of characteristics in choosing employees.
“Those include a love for constant learning, a capacity for both leadership and collaboration, and a combination of intellectual boldness and humility — the ability to take risks while learning from failure.
“These,” he said, “are the hallmarks that UB graduates are well known for.”
Tripathi said the university is showing students across the disciplines how to leverage these skills to be competitive in the 21st century economy, proactively responding to the challenges faced in the humanities.
Tripathi told the faculty audience they play an important role in this challenge, “through your scholarly achievements and their impact … through your work to invigorate and enhance the curriculum to ensure a world-class educational experience … and your mentorship of our students in the classroom, in the lab and out in the field.”
Tripathi concluded by saying enrollment will continue to favor the STEM fields and not the humanities, arts and social sciences.
“As a higher education community of scholars and leaders, we have to keep our sustained attention on this reality, which will continue to impact colleges and universities across the nation and here at UB,” he said.
In a question-and-answer session following his remarks, Tripathi addressed topics including teaching assistant stipends, which are thought by many in the UB community to be too low; the number of African-American faculty at UB; and New York State’s Excelsior Scholarship Program.
Before closing the meeting, Vanessa Dwyer, a senior environmental studies major, presented the Faculty Senate with a proposed resolution from UB Fossil Free requesting that the university divest any investments in the fossil fuel industry.