Fireless Chat: SEAS Gives it a Try
Written by Bwog Staff
Taking a cue from PrezBo, SEAS hosted its own “fireside” chat Monday night to address students’ concerns on a broad range of topics.
The digs were markedly less than splendiforous than 60 Morningside Drive – the Carleton Lounge on the first floor of Mudd is less than inviting, as its occupants often feel like they’re inside some sort of fishbowl with large windows looking outside at ground level.
And it was not a solo show. From SEAS, Interim Dean Geri Navratil hosted with Vice Dean Mort Friedman, who began teaching at Columbia in 1956. Three deans from Student Affairs were also present. Though Navratil chose questioners and commented, Friedman did most of the talking.
From the beginning, Friedman’s passion was evident. He was quite interested in student life at SEAS and about their opinions as to the SEAS curriculum, which he oversees. The evening’s questions covered a broad range of topics, though Friedman managed to each of them back to his broad vision for SEAS in the twenty-first century. Navratil even used Friedman’s now-famous quotation that graces every SEAS bulletin: “Engineering is the liberal art of the twenty-first century.” Friedman was always quick to assure the attendees that Columbia engineers would graduate as the most well-rounded engineers. Indeed, he is responsible for implementing the now twenty-some minors available to SEAS students over the last ten years.
Students raised many concerns about the advising system’s compatibility with engineering students. The deans acknowledged that “advising has always been a problem.” Improvements, like this year’s restructuring, are constantly underway. In addition, SEAS is committed to bringing students closer to faculty for a more personal experience. Dean Friedman noted that $6 million would be spent in renovating Lerner 4 (Bwog assumes he meant Lerner 6) to accommodate the new, even-more-centralized CSA.
The deans also spent quite a bit of time defending the relatively new Financial Engineering program, saying that it supports “hometown” industry (in New York City) and that it is one of the top programs in the country. Other schools, according to Friedman, admire Gateway Lab class (required of all engineering freshmen), although, he noted,it simply can’t be reproduced with “a single classroom, a professor, and a TA.” Despite all the students’ complaints, he said, the CourseWorks evaluations (which, he assured us over and over again, were anonymous…Really!) show that the majority (“more than 90%”) of students like the course. Most difficulties with the course arise from the laws or probability- out of nearly one hundred projects each year, at least a few of them are bound to fail.
The pair also noted that study abroad opportunities are growing quickly for engineers as well. A new person will be appointed in the upcoming weeks who will be the sole point of contact for undergraduate engineers interested in studying abroad. Currently, less than one percent of engineers take advantage of such opportunities compared with the fifteen percent of Columbia College students. Friedman and Navratil explain that this is because of barriers, such as having to clear each individual program with the department before hand, a process that can be tedious and confusing. SEAS is working on several pre-approved programs with other schools (Friedman mentioned the University of Edinburgh and Navratil mentioned a technology institute in France) to be offered in the future.
Other topics included funding for engineering-oriented clubs, like SAE and Engineers Without Borders, introducing students to majors with pre-professional courses, and the terrible wireless signal Dean Friedman gets in his office. He admitted that he, like many Columbians, caved and bought his own wireless router.
Two more sessions will be held in the spring, probably on specific topics. To those of you who won’t be able to make it, the message will remain this: Columbia rocks. Especially SEAS.