Monday, September 26, 2022

Some students regret their major

      An article by Andrew Van Dam in the Washington POST earlier this month (available at this link) asserts that nearly 2 in 5 American college graduates regret their choice of major . . .  many humanities majors wish they had focused more on STEM subjects while engineering majors were the group most fully satisfied.  The article has made me think back to my own college days when it was the availability of scholarships rather than love of the sciences that led me there.

From Washington POST "Department of Data" (at this link)
     My own view is that education in several fields is far more enriching than focus in a single field -- that the humanities or social science major who wishes she had studied calculus and non-Euclidean geometry and then goes on to do that brings better preparation to her later field of study.  She has knowledge and perspectives to enrich her study of mathematics!

     Consideration of study preferences has led my thoughts to an interesting pair of poems by Duke University Professor Henry Petroski -- poems found in the 1979 anthology of mathematical poetry, Against Infinity (Primary Press, 1979, Edited by Ernest Robson & Jet Wimp).  

       The Parabola

       The pencil shades the page.  The student lamp
       Is casting shadows in the line of write,
       And everything divides before the point
       Into mathematical and verbal skills.

       You be a poet, you an engineer,
       We are advised, toward universities,
       Parabolas that concentrate ideas
       Toward single focal points.  The light is lost.

       The Hyperbola

       The pencil falls.  Poets and engineers
       Are moving on their separate world lines toward
       A center that is not within the cone,
       Converge, and glimpse the focus of a ghost.

       They reel their focus stronger and retreat
       Away from everything, increasingly
       Forgetting everything but what they see
       Before them on a distant asymptote.

"The Parabola" and "The Hyperbola" are part of a longer Petroski poem, "Conic Sections." 

Engineering, like poetry, is an attempt to approach perfection. And engineers, like poets, are seldom completely satisfied with their creations. They notice, even if no one else does, the word that is not quite le mot juste or the hairline crack that blemishes the structure.     Henry Petroski

I close with a well-known Henry Petroski quote found at this link:  Top 20 Henry Petroski Quotes (2022 Update) - Quotefancy.

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