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OWU’s four most popular majors reflect university’s diversity

Staff April 11, 2013 News No Comments

Courtesy of the Psychology Department

Courtesy of the Psychology Department


By Elizabeth Childers
Managing Editor

While Ohio Wesleyan offers an array of majors in several departments – 93, according to OWU’s website – over the past five years, and according to the current declared majors, there are four who seem to draw in the most students: Zoology, Psychology, English, and Economics respectively.

These four departments being the most popular are significant in showing the diversity at OWU. Though the university is known for its science programs (OWU is one of the few in the country to offer zoology as a degree and as a separate department, which is a large draw to prospective students), the four departments with the highest number of students with declared majors are as diverse as what 93 majors would suggest. All four of these programs are also listed by the Princeton Review as some of the top ten majors in the country.

“Be warned, however, that these are not necessarily the degrees that garner the most demand in the job market,” the Princeton Review writes. “More importantly, they don’t lock you into a set career path. Each major offers unique intellectual challenges and develops skill sets that will be applicable to various careers.”

The four departments listed here – zoology, psychology, English and economics – are all very different routes of education, but all seem to do the same thing: preparing students for a wide array of different jobs focusing more on the skills and thinking styles taught by each discipline.

Zoology

Zoology currently has the most number of declared students, with 94 as of this month. The department is home to several pre-professional programs such as pre-vet and pre-med as well as home to a general Zoology degree.

The department’s chairperson, Dr. Ramon Carreno, said they have a prevalent number of prospective students come in to both sit in on classes and speak with members of the department. OWU is one of the few universities who has a department specifically labeled zoology, and Carreno said that’s definitely part of the lure for new students to come and take a look. Prospective students come from all over the country and from overseas.

Depending on what type of degree students pursue in the zoology department, students can have different expectations about their curriculum. Pre-professional programs in zoology tend to have a much stricter set of pre-required classes as opposed to a general zoology degree, Carreno said. Often times, if students change their directions in the zoology department, they either move from a pre-professional route into a general zoology degree, or leave zoology altogether to join a different department either in the social sciences or humanities.

“We don’t work as a training facility for future employees to have some sort of skill they can use working somewhere,” Carreno said. “Our biggest priority here is to train our students as thinking scientists. Our intro courses strongly emphasize the scientific method and the laws of science and thinking like a scientist.”

The introductory courses for zoology focus on the idea of applying fundamental principles of science to fields where the students find their interests. “So when you take ornithology, clearly you will learn the birds very well from our world class Ornithologist Ed Burtt,” he said. “You will learn the birds and be able to understand the diversity of birds, the systematics, the evolution, ecological factors, conservation, and where birds fit into the world, etc. When you take a course such as my Parasites and Immunity course you will learn all of the major parasitic influences that exist in the world from a human and veterinarian perspective. But all of this still comes back to the scientific approach.”

Many students in the zoology department have been involved since their freshmen year. Because OWU’s zoology department is so alluring, many freshmen who come into the program stay in the program. It is rarer, Carreno said, for older students to trickle in after taking a zoology course or two. It isn’t unusual for students in zoology to double major at OWU.

Carreno recalled a student who had graduated a few years ago who was both a zoology major and a theater major. “That was one of the more unusual ones,” he said.

Zoology majors from OWU end up in several different types of jobs all over the country.

“We have students who go on to be veterinarians, we have students who become physicians,” Carreno said. “A lot of our students go off to graduate school. We have students who end up in dental school, or become teachers. Some of our graduates end up teaching in elementary schools and high schools. And we do have a reasonable number of students working in zoos and a lot of our current and graduate students are at the Columbus Zoo and all places around the country. There are a lot of different possibilities.”
Because Zoology is a popular department at OWU, Carreno said there is sometimes a certain pressure about class enrollments. It isn’t unusual for a class to have a waiting list, or for introductory classes to have 30 to 40 students enrolled.

“In my experience, it tends to fluctuate from year to year across campus,” Carreno said. “But, I think in Zoology, generally, there is a pressure in most semesters for enrollment. We are challenged to deal with that with the resources we have available. We occasionally open additional sections of courses, sneak a few more spots into courses that are otherwise capped.”

Labs, he said, won’t have a full 30 students in them at any time. Lab sizes are small, capping at 16 for more upper level courses and at most 18 for an introductory course lab. Often times, these larger classes are separated into two smaller sections for lab times, such as having two sections of 15 meeting at different times as opposed to one large lab.

Carreno said zoology is a department where collaboration with other departments on campus is required and happens “100 percent of the time.”

“The world doesn’t revolve around biology alone,” he said. “All of the sciences depend on each other, like chemistry and physics…Our rapidly expanding and currently in development neurosciences program is a classic example. We have biologists who work in physiology and fields related to neuroscience. The physics department now has a neuroscientist working in it, and psychology as always had a neuroscientist there. Our closest relative, which I guess is one way to put it, is the Botany/Microbiology department.”
The zoology department currently has nine tenure track professors along with a few assistants for teaching and part time professors who cover for medical emergencies. Carreno said the department is relatively a young one, with all but two professors joining after 2000. Carreno said he sees the department as very modern and forward thinking and it “comes with a tradition of active scholarship and is going to be quite strong for decades.”

Carreno also said faculty members in the zoology department has kept strong research ties to former labs as well as maintained connections with newly visited labs and labs the department plans to be working with in the future.

“When someone graduates from here, they should be a well rounded and well trained biologist who is familiar with the diversity of life around them and who can put themselves in a research setting right away and be able to carry out the pursuit of scientific knowledge,” Carreno said. “From a less philosophical perspective, these students are well rounded enough to meet other requirements they might face.”

Psychology

Psychology is close behind zoology, with the second largest number (87) of enrolled majors currently on campus, as well as in the past.

“Psychology is popular nationally, so the fact it’s a big draw on our campus isn’t too surprising,” the department’s chairperson, Lynda Hall, said. “But I also think we have a relatively flexible curriculum, that’s just how our curriculum works, so a lot our majors are double majors and I’m going to guess for some department’s that’s not necessarily true.”

With only three courses required by all psychology majors, this does show how Psychology can definitely be flexible. Beyond those three classes, which are Psychology 110, a psychology stats course, and research methods, students are free to pick classes that fulfill certain categories for their majors.
“We require nine courses for the major, which is fairly low,” Hall said.

Many prospective students visit the department for OWU ‘prospie days.’

Students take a few different paths into the major. While there are students who visit before attending OWU, come in their freshmen year and proceed to follow their interest into psychology, it is also common for students who take Psych 110 as an elective, which is very popular, and decide they wish to transfer to psychology before declaring their major. Hall also said there are students who come to OWU fully intending to major in psychology, but discover it’s not what they expected and move to a different department.

“We approach it as a science and I think the methods of mastering the material are very comparable to the study methods for the natural sciences and some students aren’t expecting that and aren’t too fond of it,” Hall said.

Because Psychology is such a popular major, Hall said it can be a tension for the department when scheduling students in classes.

“One of the problems for us is we try not to close students out, but then classes can get large,” she said. “Being able to balance and being responsive to student’s needs and helping them get through the curriculum at their pace, but then also not letting classes get too large. That has always been a tension for us.”

There have been a lot of changes in the Psychology department faculty wise. Hall said semesters when they department has been “understaffed” has been more stressful than others when trying to create a balanced schedule.

“The good news there is, we’re close to fully staffed,” she said. “Next year, we will be, and that is a first time in a long time so we’re very excited about that because then it will be easier to do both: to offer classes in a way where students can register for classes when they need it but also without having the class sizes be quite so large.”

The Psychology department has eight teaching positions, and will have nine teaching faculty next year. They are located in the basement floor in Phillips, but use most of the classrooms in the whole building. Classes also are in other buildings as well.

“We follow the guidelines of the American Psychology Association, which encourages us to have a breadth in the curriculum,” Hall said. “We think it prepares students for life after graduation the best. We also find students who go off to grad school programs which are extraordinarily specialized but don’t want students who have already specialized, they want people who have had a good breadth in classes so they’re ready to specialize.”

As a result, many students are prepared for a different array of jobs, and end up in occupations ranging from teaching to human resources. Many psychology majors also major in economics, another top major at OWU, and use their degrees in the business world. Students also go into medical and law school.
“We’ve been very successful to placing students in doctorate programs…and we’re placing people in highly competitive programs,” Hall said. “Many more go into masters programs, social work programs, and social health programs.”

While many psychology majors go on to graduate school – Hall said probably a third would be a good guess – many do leave OWU and jump right into the workforce, either not pursuing a graduate degree or taking a gap period before moving on to their masters or PhD. Students who don’t go on to graduate work go into the business world or go into marketing. The way the psychology program is set up at OWU, students are prepared to work in environments where being able to communicate is key.

“Our department is active in community activities, like committee work,” Hall said about her department’s interaction with other departments on campus. “For me personally, that’s been a big way of getting out of the department and interacting with others. It’s one aspect of committee work I value a lot.”

They also participate in StART, the program for freshmen students to get them settled in at OWU. The faculty of this department also gets involved in summer science research programs on campus, which also get them involved with the natural sciences.

“It’s funny, as small a campus this is, we can get so engrossed in department business that it’s easy to be more separated than I think you intend. I’m pleased we do as much as we do; I wish there were more opportunities to do more. The biggest limit is there are only so many hours in a day.”
Hall is hoping, as great as it has been to have new faculty members come in and see their new ideas, that the department settles down for a while.

“We’re looking forward to being stable (faculty wise) for a little while,” she said. “We would like to develop our facilities. One of the challenges making sure we always are up to date on technologies and lab facilities. That is something we will be focused on.”

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