Recently, as I was walking into the entry of the CASL Building, I encountered a bewildered looking young person and her parents. Recognizing that they were having difficulty finding some location on campus, I stopped to ask them if I could help. “We are looking for the Science Building,” the father eagerly responded. “I am heading in that direction and would be happy to show you the way,” I replied. So off we went.
I quickly learned that the young woman in his company (his daughter) was considering UM-Dearborn for her post-high school education. As I asked the young woman about her interests, it became very clear that her father and mother had specific ideas about what their daughter would study.
“We want her to study STEM,” the student’s mother announced. “Yes,” the father chimed in, “we want her to have direct experience in a real lab. You know, the kind of place where scientists get their hands dirty.” Turning to the student I asked, “and what do you think of that?”
“I guess my parents are right,” she responded. “That kind of practical experience in a lab would be good to have. But I also really like English.”
“I see,” I said. Without missing a beat I went on to add, “you know, English majors work in a laboratory as well. While their lab doesn’t have the physical walls and scientific equipment that we tend to associate with a lab, their lab space is every bit as hands on and rigorous as any lab that you will see in our science building.”
“Look,” I continued, “our science programs are first rate and you would have a great experience majoring in any of our science programs. Having said that, however, I don’t want you to think for a moment that the rest of our faculty and students aren’t engaged in lab work of their own. Indeed, the majority of the lab space in the college looks very different from anything that you are about to see. It consists of field sites to study geology, environmental science, and archaeology. It takes the form of written texts and mathematical models. It encompasses the world outside of the university and the communities in which we live. And, it resides in the classroom itself. All of these entities are laboratories in their own right and will offer you the same degree of hands on experience as you will find in any of our more traditional lab spaces.”
“I never thought of things in that way,” the student said. Her parents agreed.
For me, I am reminded daily of the varied forms that CASL “labs” take and of the quality educational experience that each and every one of them provided to our students. I am incredibly impressed by the “lab” work that our faculty and students are engaged in and welcome the opportunity to continue making the case for a CASL education, no matter the major, being a "lab-based" education.
Martin Hershock, Dean