Newly-recognized clubs focus on STEM fields

by Abby Mihaly | 10/20/17 2:15am

An increased number of newly-recognized clubs through the Council of Student Organizations were related to science, technology, engineering and math during the 2016-2017 school year, according to Collis director of student involvement Anna Hall. Hall added that the rise in STEM-related clubs highlights an increase in student interest in new technology.

During this school year, five of the 18 new COSO-recognized organizations — Dartmouth Data Science Club, Dartmouth Machine Learning Club, Drone Club at Dartmouth, Dartmouth Quant Traders and Dartmouth Computational Mathematics Society, — are related to STEM fields. Crypto-Club, which focuses on blockchain technology, was also recognized by COSO during this school year.

“I think [the increase in STEM-related clubs] is just reflective of the work that students are interested in and the direction of the world in terms of the use of this technology,” Hall said.

Founders and members of some of these new clubs have witnessed interest in the new clubs displaced by not only students already involved in these fields but also students from non-STEM backgrounds. James Detweiler ’18, founder of Crypto-Club, noted that 30 people came to its last club meeting.

“I was surprised by how many people came from different majors, all around campus,” Detweiler said.

Chris Kymn ’18, who is a member of the Data Science Club, also expressed his excitement that so many members were interested.

“There is actually a pretty wide variety of backgrounds right now,” Kymn said. “Some people are computer science majors, from seniors who have done internships before, to sophomores who have experience in quantitative finance, to freshman who have absolutely no experience, which is really exciting.”

Rather than aiming to create a space only for those already experienced in the field, both Kymn and Detweiler said that their clubs hope to expand knowledge and interest across campus.

“We’re mostly looking for not what kinds of things do certain people want to do, but what kinds of things would make this more accessible to the larger Dartmouth community, and just more useful for everyone, even if you’re not a computer science major or a math major,” Kymn said.

Detweiler shared a similar motive.

“I had been really excited by the technology, and I decided to share my excitement,” Detweiler said. “The real point of [Crypto-] Club is to discuss what’s going on with innovations in the field and to bring everyone up to speed in terms of what is happening. I think a lot is going on right now [with blockchain], and that might be one of the reasons you’re seeing a lot of technology-oriented companies.”

In the case of Crypto-Club, Detweiler said he hopes the club can allow a space for the birth of new ideas.

“The point of the club is to familiarize everybody with this concept and maybe allow some ideas to grow out of it, and people can be the innovators,” he said.

Kymn said the Data Science Club also hopes to provide hands-on experiences.

“[The Data Science Club exists] to just give people an opportunity in data science without having to take classes in the computer science department or have prior experience from internships,” Kymn said.

Hall said that she has noticed that these clubs tend to be more about applied science and math than in past years.

“It seems like a lot of this technology is permeating through a lot of different parts of society,” Hall said.

Hall also said the interest in applied math and technology here at Dartmouth may reflect a pattern in the greater world.

“I think [this increase in interest] just reflects what is happening in the world,” Hall said. “I know that especially computer science fields, what I’ve heard from students is that that’s an area that’s currently undergoing a lot of changes and growing, and there seems to be this interest.”

Like Hall, Detweiler said he believes that the changes we see in technology are just the beginning.

“[Increase in interest] is a big hint as to what’s going on in the outside world,” he said. “We’re on a cusp of something big, I think.”

Detweiler further explained that with the specific technology of blockchain central to Crypto-Club, the new technology is likely to change the structures of many industries as we know them.

“Bitcoin is one of the first uses of blockchain, and we’re seeing it shoot up in value and we’re seeing it used around the world, not only for illegal things like some people paint it out to be,” Detweiler said. “[Blockchain is] going to change how companies raise equity, it’s going to change how energy travels throughout our country, it’s going to change how rides are shared between riders and drivers. I think it’s going to change how a lot of current industries operate.”

Dartmouth has a history of involvement in cutting-edge technology. The computer language BASIC was originally developed on the Dartmouth campus. In 1956, Dartmouth hosted the first ever conference for artificial intelligence. Detweiler hopes clubs like his own can play a role in continuing to encourage innovation in these fields.

“I wanted to create this club to create a forum to discuss ideas related to blockchain,” Detweiler said. “If this becomes huge, then Dartmouth can say, you know what, we hosted students who could discuss these ideas, and they came up with some innovations that changed the world.”

Correction Appended (Oct. 22, 2017):

The Oct. 20 article "Newly-recognized clubs focus on STEM fields" was updated to clarify Detweiler's statements.