Being part of the Science and Global Change program at UMD has definitely had an impact on me for the better. More specifically, I think it has developed my critical thinking skills and encouraged me to become a more skeptical person. From learning how to read scientific papers to studying why people deny the existence of climate change, the SGC learning program has developed my critical thinking skills as well as my ability to formulate and explain what I want to say.
Because I am a Computer Science major, about 70% of my day is doing one thing - trying to decipher and fix my broken code. Any programmer will tell you that nothing ever works on the first try, and debugging is the bane of our existences. Surprisingly, I think my experience in SGC has made me better at debugging and finding where my mistakes were. My process all throughout my high school programming career had been to blankly stare at my computer screen and hope that I would have some eureka moment that would fix everything. Now I like to think I am a bit more sophisticated as I have developed more of a structure toward approaching debugging and I like to think that structure parallels the Hypothetico-Deductive method. First I have to see what type of error my code is producing and if that error is repeatable (if it is not repeatable I have to figure out how to make it repeatable otherwise it is another whole headache). Then I try to create a null hypothesis, assuming certain inputs will produce the desired result and repeat until I find such an input that breaks the code. Though at this point I have not really fixed the problem, this approach has allowed me to figure out why my code fails which ideally would lead me to the specific line (or lines if I am unlucky) of code that are causing that failure. A lot of this approach was developed during my first semester as a student, learning about the Hypothetico-Deductive method in class and then applying it to fixing my code. As a result SGC has helped me approach debugging in a better, less time consuming way.
Another way that the SGC program impacted me is that it exposed me to a lot of the pseudo-science in the world and how to approach it. I will never forget how a week into my Covid-19 induced Fall online learning, I saw a post on my town facebook group titled Let Students Play Sports. Said facebook post argued that because Covid-19 deaths only primarily occurred with the older generation students at our local high school should be allowed to play sports (At the time our State officials had announced that sports could be resumed if proper precautions were taken, but our superintendent felt that the district should such precautions would be difficult to enforce and the time and effort required would be best served making sure online learning would succeed). The aforementioned Facebook post also argued that everyone was making too much of a big deal out of Covid-19 and that the district forcing kids to learn at home was the equivalent to Russian Communism - I was not about to touch that one. However, I did feel the need to reply to the post as it had linked a lot of research papers and presented itself as a very well informed argument thus garnering a lot of people in the community. It had gone to the point that there were several planned protests to convince the superintendent to reconsider. Because of my experience in the SGC program I felt prepared to look at the validity of the argument. I looked at the sources the person had cited and found that all of them had come from pretty reputable sources - the National Bureau of Economic Research for example - and their results agreed with other papers I had found online. Despite the validity of the paper, I realized that none of the papers the post cited had anything to do with whether or not there should be students playing sports. For example, the post cited a source which showed that the mortality rate amongst teens due to Covid-19 as evidence that students should play but that neglects the fact that Covid-19 can still spread amongst students to their parents, who would have a higher mortality rate (especially if they had a predisposed condition). As I learned in class, this is a perfect example of a non sequitur. Being a part of scholars gave me the tools to recognize not only where and how science was being used incorrectly, but also to recognize bad arguments when I see them.
My 2 supporting courses were MATH240 Linear Algebra and CMSC132 Object Oriented Programming, and both of these classes helped develop my critical thinking skills. In Linear Algebra, I was forced to deal with a lot of theoretical concepts - vectors, determinants, eigen-values etc. But the biggest thing that stuck with me was how interconnected all various types of math are. My professor, Dr Manning made it a point to show how math at a college level was just representing and looking at the same thing from a different perspective. I have come to really appreciate this idea as it allowed me to draw connections to everything that I learned in the past. I started to apply this on a broader level, looking for how I can look at the same thing from different perspectives. CMSC132 was one of the more difficult classes that I had taken in my first semester, and it truly prepared me by giving me difficult problems to solve, forcing me to think outside the box. The class forced me to apply Computer Science concepts in a way that I had previously not done, and gave me a better idea for how difficult a lot of my computer science classes would be in the future.
Going into University I was very scared about meeting new people and making new friends, however SGC gave me the opportunity to do both. I was able to interact with a lot of different people, and find a lot of people who shared similar interests with me. I think the best bonding experience I have had was cleaning the river in my first week of school. The shared experience (and smell) of walking through inches of mud really solidified a lot of the friendships that I have today.
An aspect that I really appreciate about the SGC program were the colloquiums, where I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people that came from a different background than me. Having grown up in the same town for 20 years, it was really fun to see how people from different places had other (and sometimes very similar) beliefs to my own. As a result, I not only learnt a lot, but also got the experience to talk to different people - further developing my interpersonal skills.
I consider myself to be a relatively introverted person, but I like to think that I still contributed to the SGC program. I tried my best to participate to the best of my abilities during colloquium, and I helped out my fellow SGC members with the HTML assignment. I also had the opportunity to help out the current freshman set up their HTML web page. I do sometimes wish I participated more as a lot of the lectures I was in were extremely interesting, and I sometimes find myself going back to old online notes to remind myself what I had learnt the previous semester. But all in all, I like to think that I played a role in the community .
I have really enjoyed my past 3 semesters being part of SGC. My experience has been nothing but positive, as I was able to not only learn about climate change, but develop a more critical understanding of science - making me a better, well rounded person.