FEATURE: Technology Leaves Keck Behind

As the role of science and technology in the lives of everyday people continues to grow, keeping STEM education accessible has never been more important. Adopting the latest advancements in technology unlocks this education at all levels, as massive open online courses have shown through Coursera and Udacity. But the Keck Science Center, a science department jointly sponsored by Claremont McKenna College (CMC), Scripps College, and Pitzer College—three members of the Claremont Colleges consortium—requires that STEM majors bear the costs of “typing…, paper, Xeroxing, and binding of a thesis.” Though it claims on its website that “[o]ne thing you won’t find here is locked doors,” this cost may be prohibitive to some, with the total cost of these expenses sometimes exceeding $200 according to an anonymous student. Another student showed the Independent a receipt totaling $75 for a comparatively short 75-page thesis—approximately one dollar per page. While thesis binding costs are a small part of an education, it highlights the need for our educational institutions to move with the times and utilize the latest technology available to maximize accessibility. While adopting such advancements in technology—in this case electronic theses—would render these costs a thing of the past, Keck has shown little initiative in advancement in this area, with plans to do so but no solid timeline.

While Keck’s member colleges have their own policies regarding theses funding, these initiatives detract from how adopting newer technology such as electronic publication can directly reduce costs, freeing up resources for other critical elements of the academic experience.

Scripps College informed the Independent that the “Office of the Dean of Faculty provides financial assistance to help cover the costs of thesis projects for its students through the Scripps Thesis Fund, sponsored by the Hearst Foundation. In addition, financial assistance is available from Scripps Associated Students, the College’s student government association, and the student-run Motley Coffeehouse.” While not specifically intended for students majoring through Keck, Scripps’ policy provides an avenue for these to reduce the cost of thesis binding. Claremont McKenna College, according to Dianna Graves, the Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students, “works with Financial Aid to help cover the cost of thesis binding for students who request it and are on need-based aid.” While limiting the scope of cost-covering to students on need-based financial aid, CMC at least allows for certain students to get around otherwise unmanageable requirements. Pitzer College did not respond to requests for comment, and the Independent could not find evidence for funding in Pitzer’s case. These policies help with the costs of binding, which can reach hundreds of dollars. But making a simple switch to electronic theses would free up these resources for other programs covered by student government in the case of Scripps or financial aid in CMC’s case.

When the Independent asked Keck about these expenses, and if there were any plans to adopt technology to lower thesis costs, Ulysses J. Sofia, Weinberg Family Dean of Science, said that Keck “understand[s] the expense involved in binding. Given the current prevalence of electronic publication and access, I plan to discuss the paper binding requirement with the Department.”

One senior at Pitzer College, who is majoring in human biology and wishes to remain anonymous, has encountered obstacles related to thesis printing. In response to the above statement, he said that “it’s encouraging to hear that it has been an acknowledged issue by faculty, and that measures are being done to address them accordingly. The next step is to see how quickly these measures are implemented.”

If successfully implemented, a switch to allow for online publication of theses would be a major step in modernizing Keck, and lowering sometimes prohibitive costs for students. The same student also pointed out the positive impact this would have on academia as a whole, adding that this system would “help diffuse the research conducted by students. The only place to access this knowledge are through posters plastered on the walls of Keck or certain bookshelves for only the student’s principal investigator to be aware of.” In the modern world, with technology becoming more and more a part of everyday life, it’s more important than ever that STEM majors be given institutional support by adapting to the increased convenience and cost effectiveness offered by technology; there is also the added environmental benefit of saving paper.

Though Keck students can and do find ways to cover the costs of thesis-binding, the question remains as to why these requirements exist in the first place. Keck is a STEM-based institution; adoption of new technologies should be second nature there. That it has not is proof of Max Planck’s old adage that “[a] new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

As the new takes the place of the old, Keck will surely transition to more modern means of thesis binding. But even in the short term, making it a bit harder for STEM majors by setting unreasonable, but easily changed, requirements along the path to doing so is a surefire way to slow down the rate of technological and scientific progress. As science and technology have advanced, so has quality of life, and to put obstacles in the way of progress indirectly contributes to many of the problems facing the world today. It may seem small, but even things like Keck’s thesis binding requirement can be counterproductive to the goals of scientific advancement. Like it or not, modern institutions like Keck, the Claremont Colleges, and others will have to adapt to keep pace with new developments. The initial transition may be difficult, but the end result of a more efficient, scientific, technologically advanced, and interconnected world are well worth the trouble.

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