HMC Initiates Discussions on Work-Life Balance

Conversations about balance between schoolwork and life
outside of the classrooms have come to the surface at Harvey Mudd College. Associated
Students of Harvey Mudd College (ASHMC) created the Work-Life Balance Group, which aims
to bring focus on balancing work and fun to create a healthier environment for
HMC students.

Zoab Kapoor HM ’17, the chair of the group, says that the
group was started due to discussions about how much time HMC students spend on school. The group will send out a survey in the near future to gather perspectives from the HMC community.

“Once we do that, we have to diagnose what the problem is,” Kapoor said. “Once we have a handle on both those things, then if there is a problem, we
would want to start collecting solutions for how we might solve that problem,
and we would go through and identify the best approach and hopefully interact
with faculty and staff … to try to make a change.” 

Zoab hopes that there will be active participation and
feedback for the group and the survey. There has already been a large amount of
participation in an email thread in the HMC student listserv regarding this
issue. Students have brought up topics such as the dangers of disregarding mental
and physical health.

Former ASHMC President Michael Saffron HM ’15 wrote
an opinions article that appeared in TSL‘s Feb. 21 issue where he
called for a more balanced curriculum so that students would be able to pursue
activities outside the classroom.

“Everyone should have something that they do in their free
time that doesn’t feel like work; it feels like something they just want to
do,” he said.

Saffron said that he also struggled with finding the right
balance.

“It was at a certain point I realized that I was a lot
happier with my time at Mudd when I had a significant time investment that
wasn’t homework, and I realized that my time wasn’t all that satisfying like I
thought it was,” Saffron said. “I was kinda almost diluted into thinking that I was really
happy.” 

Saffron also noted that there is a certain culture and ownership
of work at HMC where some students feel that “it’s a macho thing.”

“It’s been ingrained in our culture and that’s why it’s so
difficult,” he said. “You can’t just show numbers and say ‘look, here’s the
result.’ There’s an emotional investment in maintaining this. People wear this
as a badge of honor: ‘I made it through Mudd. I’m strong.’”

Saffron and Kapoor both expressed that students will
have to work with faculty to come up with effective solutions for how to tackle the
problem.

Meanwhile, the Curriculum Committee recently sent out an
email with a survey and details about a “proposal to add 0.5 units to Math 30
(Calculus) and 0.5 units to Math 60 (Multivariable Calculus) in order to
bolster student skills in calculus and fluency in mathematics in general.”

Saffron discussed the possibility of this addition during a faculty
meeting. The committee is still talking about the proposal and did not vote on the addition of the units.

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Jon
Jacobsen wrote in an email to TSL that
HMC students currently need to take an average of 16 units each semester, usually a combination of five 3-unit courses and one 1-unit course. A normal academic course is a 3-unit course, while 1-unit courses include PE
classes, labs, seminar/colloquia requirements for their major, and 1-unit
research or independent study courses.

According to the college website, the current Core
Curriculum consists of one course each in biology, computer science and
engineering; three semesters of mathematics; two and a half semesters of
physics and its corresponding lab; one and a half semesters of chemistry and
its corresponding lab; a “Core lab” selected from a list of offerings; a
half-semester of college writing; and a course in critical inquiry offered by
the Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts.

“The Core is demanding, but Harvey Mudd fosters
collaboration, not competition—students work in teams and learn together,” the
website reads.

Saffron said he thinks it would be much better if there
were more courses that were interdisciplinary or that apply to multiple fields
that students can pick and choose.

HMC Wellness Coordinator Evelyn Cho works with students to
improve all aspects of wellness including mental and physical health, balanced
life schedules and managing stress. Cho emphasized the need to consider other aspects of the student experience along with academics. 

“One thing that I have seen when I was an undergrad and also
working here with students here, is that if there isn’t work-life balance then
there isn’t much enjoyment in the work that is being done and then there is a
lot of burnout that happens as a result of that,” she said.

Zachary Dodds, a professor of computer science who has taught at HMC since 1999, said that there are positive and negative sides of the
academic culture at HMC.

“There are some really positive things about the place,” Dodds said. “Positive things sometimes have side effects that aren’t always positive.
Everybody is excited about their academics; they are excited about what they
are at Mudd for. But as a result, everybody wants to dive into everything.
Everybody wants to do everything. That’s where reality pushes back.”

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