Alumni survey will help Bates assess science, math programs

Though it’s regarded as one of the nation’s best small liberal arts colleges, Bates College is asking alumni to help it become even better.

As part of a general assessment of its science and math programs, Bates is requesting that alumni who majored in those areas take part in a survey about their post-Bates careers. (See related story.)

If you graduated between 1990 and 2009 and would like to tell Bates what you have done with your math and science education or how you’re applying your degree to a career in those fields, please take the survey.

The survey, funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will assess career outcomes for Bates graduates. Their responses will help the college understand the strengths and weaknesses of its science and math programs, as well as ways in which this background is being applied after graduation.

According to Assistant Dean of the Faculty Kerry O’Brien, the survey has been sent to about 1,900 alums and roughly 800 have already responded. While pleased with this 40 percent response rate, the office hopes to hear from as many alumni as possible who majored in math and science or went on to pursue a career related to those fields.

Understanding the perspectives of Bates graduates is crucial if the college wishes to evolve, O’Brien says. “When people have a little time away from Bates, they reflect on their college experience in a different way, so getting that type of feedback is really important.”

O’Brien and her colleagues are impressed by the thoughtful recollections they have received so far. “It’s overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had some that have offered constructive criticism, and a lot have offered suggestions.

“But by and large, people talk about the value of their math and science education.”

The uses for the information gleaned from the survey are extensive. The data collected will be invaluable in obtaining more grants like the one that made the survey possible. Information regarding how many Bates students go on to earn doctorates, for example, is often required in grant applications.

“Those are very compelling numbers,” says O’Brien.

Looking beyond numbers, O’Brien believes that the open-ended responses will also prove extremely useful. Specific suggestions can help faculty with advising and even curriculum. Alums who have gone on to graduate school and to science- and math-related careers have a unique perspective on the merits of a liberal arts education like the kind Bates provides.

O’Brien was surprised but glad to see that “many, many respondents talked about learning to communicate effectively and how essential that is in a job. They felt much better prepared as writers when they got to grad school or into their careers.”

Most survey respondents feel indebted to their Bates education, “and this is important for faculty to hear,” O’Brien adds.

The reflections of graduates with math and science degrees may also be useful in recruiting coming generations of Bates students. What alums say about the opportunities they had for research or how they benefited from taking a wide variety of courses will influence prospective students who may also be looking at large research universities.

“A lot of what we’re seeing here is alums comparing their experiences with their fellow grad students’ experience,” she notes. “And the kind of one-on-one, close relationship you develop with faculty at a small school like Bates makes you a strong graduate student once you move on.”

According to O’Brien, this survey very much reflects the institutional culture of Bates. “Bates is a place that is always reexamining itself. We’re not really content to just go along with the status quo.”

Should the math and science survey prove a success, there may be opportunities to gather similar information from alumni who majored in social sciences, humanities and interdisciplinary programs.

Hillary Fink ’11, Office of Communications and Media Relations

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