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No Easy Solution: Students Struggle to Find Science Classes

It’s a student’s last registration day at Clark. They’re eager to be signing up for the last classes needed to finish their degree, but the excitement is soon replaced with anxiety come registration time: the natural science class they needed is full, and so is their plan B, C and D.

Director of Advising Services John Maduta said this is a common occurrence for Clark students. Many of the students he’s talked to in his 10 years of advising at Clark ask for help finding classes to fulfill their natural science degree requirements.

Students have more difficulty getting into science classes as the academic year goes on since many of them wait to take those courses until their last few quarters, Maduta said. This leaves a large number of students struggling all at once to find the classes they need to graduate.

“My advice to students is to plan to take those science classes earlier,” Maduta said. “If you’ve got two years to complete your degree, try to do one every other quarter.”

Peter Williams, the dean of STEM at Clark, holds his mug in his office. Williams said that implementing Guided Pathways would be the solution to science scheduling conflicts. (Andy Bao/The Independent)

 

Peter Williams, the dean of STEM at Clark, said another answer is the Guided Pathways that the college is working on. These pathways would act as a roadmap students could use to plan what sciences they’re taking and when, which would help students to start taking them earlier.

“The solution to a lot of this is Guided Pathways,” Williams said. “We would be able to ensure in a better way, and in a more student-centered way, that we are providing the course offerings students need.”

Guided Pathways would also allow Clark to allocate resources and class offerings when it knows students will need them.

“All of it boils down to resources,” Williams said.

Finding Instructors

One of the resources that needs planning and forethought is the distribution of adjuncts, Williams said.

Administrators try to open new sections of classes if they notice some start to form waitlists, but they can’t open sections they don’t have instructors for. Williams said the hiring process for adjuncts can take months, so Pathways would let the college know when and where to hire them in advance.

Alongside the scheduling challenges, it can be difficult to find the right instructors to teach in Clark’s classrooms, chemistry professor Nadine Fattaleh said.

“We try to offer additional sections, but that’s limited by our staffing. We don’t want to put just anyone in the classroom. We want to find quality people,” she said.

Travis Kibota, a biology professor who used to be the division chair for Life Sciences, said finding adjuncts with the right background in their field, as well as education, is challenging.

“We can’t hire just anybody to teach those classes,” Kibota said. “They not only have have to have expertise in their content, but have some background in terms of classroom management.”

Moving Online

Williams said another solution to the difficulty some students face while registering for science classes is offering more hybrid classes. While some STEM faculty are reluctant to transition to fully online science classes due to concerns about the quality of online labs, Williams said hybrid serves as a middle ground.

“I think hybrid is where a lot of these are going,” Williams said. “I think hybrid is a really good way for classes to be taught, and I think that’s where a lot of these sciences may shift to.”

Kibota is helping make William’s prediction a reality. Kibota has been working on a hybrid version of  Clark’s General Biology curriculum that will run summer quarter. The class’ lecture will be at home, and he said as much of the lab will be done online as possible.

Even though faculty members like Kibota are adapting labs for online, others, like Fattaleh, think labs should stay face-to-face.

“Philosophically, we feel that we really want to see how students are manipulating things in a hands-on way,” Fattaleh said. “It’s science; that’s part of the reason behind it. I don’t want to say ‘Well, it’s science,’ but well, it’s science.”

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