STEM majors and careers are thriving at Gonzaga University, with both men and women representing the engineering, computer science, science, and math majors.

The question, “What’s your major?” is something college students are guaranteed to hear throughout their four years. But that answer often changes with factors like job market and starting salaries weighing on Zags' minds. 

Gonzaga has one of the highest retention rates for freshman in the country at 92%, compared to the nation’s average of 72% from the first to second year. One of the many ways GU differs from other schools involves its direct admission into the Engineering and Nursing programs.

The retention rate for the School of Engineering usually averages in the low '90s, according to professor and chair of Civil Engineering Rhonda Young. 

“The biggest factors in student success is the strong sense of community among engineering students and the access to faculty," said Young. "Gonzaga also has strong support services in both academic and non-academic areas to help our students through challenging courses or challenging personal time."

Engineering students also have a strict plan of courses they must take each semester. Most students who switch out of engineering usually do so their first year, Young added. 

“Typically, by the junior year students have learned good study habits and really enjoy seeing how the theory is applied in the field,” Young said.  

In 2012, 11 freshman were admitted as electrical engineer majors, and 8 of them graduated with electrical engineering degrees, according to GU’s Office of Institutional Research.

Mechanical engineering, which had 73 first year students in 2012. 45 of those students graduated with the same major.

Furthermore, biochemistry had 7 students who graduated with that degree out of the original 27 declared. 

“Students are concerned with GPA, and if they do not have a sold math background, they may not be achieving the grades needed to pursue the [Biochemistry] major in order to get into medical school,” said Jennifer Shepard, department chair of chemistry and biochemistry.

On average, there are about 26 students who graduate with degrees in human physiology. However, in 2013, there were 54 first-year students declared as human physiology majors. Of those 54 students, 17 graduated with degrees in human physiology according to the Office of Institutional research. 

On average, 4 students come in with physics as their declared major according to department chair Eric Kincanon 

As first year students, physics majors take the same classes as engineering, chemistry and biochemistry majors.

“After the first year, physics majors are in the courses for just the physics degree. These courses vary in size from just two or three [students] up to about 15. The larger course enrollments are due to students who are getting a minor in physics,” said Kincannon.  

Biology Department Chair Kirk Anders said about 100 students come to Gonzaga as biology majors. About 82 students are expected to graduate this year with a degree in biology.  

Kirk says it is isn’t necessarily the difficulty that causes students to switch out of science and math programs, but rather a matter of interest.  

“In my experience, it is usually that the student realizes they don’t like science as much as they thought they would, and that their interests lay in other academic pursuits. For example, a number of students arriving at Gonzaga declaring biology end up loving psychology and switching majors,” said Kirk. 

Karlie Murphy is a staff writer.

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