For Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Students at Stonehill, Discoveries Are Made in Labs and Liberal Arts

November 17, 2014


STEM students enjoy close working relationships with their professors in every discipline. Above, Biology Professor Irvin Pan works with a student in the $34 million state-of-the-art Shields Science Center.

After a meeting of Professor Anna Lännstrom’s Introduction to Moral Reasoning class, biochemistry major Alicia DeColli ’13 approached Lännstrom with a concern weighing on her mind: The class discussion had focused on the ethics of cloning, and Alicia told Lännstrom that her classmates seemed to hold some misconceptions about the science behind cloning itself.

“I said, ‘I think you’re right — will you explain it?’” says Lännstrom, chair of the Philosophy Department. “Together with another biochemistry major in the class, Alicia put together a presentation of the basic science of cloning and its applications, and we used our combined knowledge to have a deeper conversation about the ethics involved.”

Alicia, now in a doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was taking the philosophy class as part of Stonehill’s general education curriculum, which emphasizes humanities courses for all majors. With this approach, graduates in STEM fields (encompassing science, technology, engineering and math) go into the world armed not only with scientific knowledge but also with the critical-thinking skills and broad worldview they need to succeed in their chosen fields.

Cornerstone Curriculum Enhances STEM

While their base of learning may be in Stonehill’s math labs, computer labs or the new $34 million Shields Science Center, the Cornerstone Program of General Education at Stonehill takes STEM students to all corners of the campus. It exposes them to a wide range of courses and knowledge, beginning with traditional liberal arts disciplines, writing and critical thinking. Emphasizing integrated learning and reflection, the program lets students dig into ethical, existential and even metaphysical ideas, providing a strong foundation for significant learning and a global perspective.

A key part of the Cornerstone program is the sophomore-year Learning Community requirement. LCs examine real-world problems through the lenses of two disciplines, and many incorporate community-based learning. For example, in the Food Politics LC, food and nutrition are examined through the dual lenses of environmental science and sociology as well as through hands-on experience working on Stonehill’s community farm. It’s the kind of discussion – encompassing important, high-impact lessons about equity, sustainability and community – that can only be addressed in an interdisciplinary approach.

Stonehill professors give STEM students the encouragement and resources they need to make the most of these learning experiences throughout their four years as scholars. Students also have the chance to apply what they’ve learned in new ways through a range of unique opportunities such as the 3+2 Notre Dame Engineering Dual Degree program, study abroad options, academic clubs and community service programs.

“It’s a great outlet to have religion, philosophy and literature classes,” says Brandon Dunham ’13, a chemistry major who participated in the 3+2 Notre Dame program and is now pursuing a PhD at UMass Amherst. “They teach you critical thinking and how to present information.”

Benefits of Diverse Learning Flow in Both Directions

When Alicia made her cloning presentation in her philosophy class, it benefited non-science students by enhancing their understanding of the issues. But it also helped her tailor her communications skills for a non-science audience.

“The science faculty are committed to the importance of humanities and vice versa, competition doesn’t exist at Stonehill; it truly is about recognizing value in other areas.”
Louis Liotta, chair of the Chemistry Department

“It was a huge lesson for me,” says Alicia. “It helped me see that the science community [can be] like a separate culture, [especially] if we as scientists do not reach out and communicate the strengths that science has to offer.”

Enhanced communication is just one of the learning benefits for STEM students pursuing their degree on a campus with such rich liberal arts offerings. Stonehill’s Congregation of Holy Cross heritage emphasizes an education of the “whole person” – teaching science students how to apply science to ultimately benefit humanity. With courses in literature, history, art, foreign languages and  religious studies, students gain broader perspectives and learn to clarify arguments, understand ethical implications and examine values.  

Within the supportive setting of Stonehill’s small class sizes, professors embody this approach, taking pride in finding new ways to educate students, individually and holistically. “The science faculty are committed to the importance of humanities and vice versa,” says Louis Liotta, chair of the Chemistry Department. “Competition doesn’t exist at Stonehill; it truly is about recognizing value in other areas.”

Scientists and World Citizens

Equipped with this breadth of skills, Stonehill’s STEM students are well-prepared to succeed in careers in their chosen fields – and beyond.

“Stonehill’s STEM students are ready to adapt and integrate new knowledge and experiences,” says Todd Gernes, assistant dean of general education and associate professor of history and American studies. “This is crucial when we consider the rapid pace of technological change, our digitally interconnected world, and the reality that our students may change jobs or career tracks 10 times or more before retiring.”

“The Math Department at Stonehill not only opened my mind to the world of mathematics but cared enough about my personal interests to work with me on my own passions,” says mathematics major Matthew Tardiff ’14, whose interest in sports and business led him to a career with the Boston Celtics as a sales representative.

For biochemistry major James Hummel ’06, the breadth of his Stonehill experience has served him well on an unexpected career path in broadcast news. “So far I’ve had to cover it all – current events, politics, arts, even science,” says James, a TV news anchor for KATC in Lafayette, Louisiana. “The well-rounded education at Stonehill prepared me perfectly for whatever a day in news might bring.”

“The improv class was so unique for me, as a science major. It made me think on my feet, which prepared me for job fairs and grad school interviews – and the real world in general.”
Nicole Sjoblom ’13

Stonehill’s curriculum also helps students be especially effective both as scientists and world citizens, an orientation organic to Stonehill’s culture. “A student pursuing a career in medicine will leave Stonehill with interests in community health and social justice, [in] helping people who are poorly able to access health resources,” says Heather Bleakley, assistant professor of biology. “That sense of community ultimately comes from the interdisciplinary work – having a moral inquiry class or a food justice class.”

Nicole Sjoblom ’13 found that community service, study abroad and classes such as her LC, “Society on Stage” (sociology and theater improvisation), helped round out her concentration in biochemistry. “The improv class was so unique for me, as a science major,” says Nicole, who worked for the Belfer Institute for Applied Cancer Science at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute after graduation and is now a doctoral candidate at the Tufts University Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. “It made me think on my feet, which prepared me for job fairs and grad school interviews – and the real world in general.”