Alumna creates petition urging administrators to recognize economics as STEM major


Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

The Kellogg School of Management, 2211 Campus Dr., home of the NU department of economics. More than 150 students and alumni have signed a petition asking administrators to consider economics a STEM major to help international students when applying for work visas.

Ally Mauch, Assistant Campus Editor

More than 150 students and alumni signed a petition as of Thursday night asking administrators to recognize economics as a science, technology, engineering and math major to help international students when applying for work visas.

The petition, created by alumna Mahera Walia (Weinberg ’17), is addressed to the department of economics, the International Office and the Office of the President. If economics is considered a STEM major, international students pursuing it could have an additional 24 months in the U.S. after graduating and being hired, as well as two additional chances to apply for H-1B work visas.

The petition says NU currently defines the economics major as general economics, which does not fall under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s STEM Designated Degree Program list. For ICE to consider economics a STEM major at NU, the University would need to designate the major as econometrics and quantitative economics, according to the petition.

Walia, an international student who was born in India and grew up in Malaysia, said she struggled to find companies that would interview foreign students when she applied for consulting jobs her senior year. She was eventually hired by a consulting firm that would sponsor her H-1B visa, but said there is only a 30 percent chance she will get the visa due to the lottery system.

“If I don’t, I’m going to have to leave the country even though I was able to get a top, high-paying job in the U.S., just because of this lottery system,” Walia said. “It’s not even an application, it’s a lottery.”

International Office director Ravi Shankar said it’s concerning that some international students choose majors based on their ability to get extra time in the country to find or maintain employment.

Shankar said his office “absolutely” supports the prospect of adding economics as a STEM major to give students more opportunities.

“We were aware that students in economics wanted economics to be STEM,” Shankar said. “If it’s approved, then we are very happy to give that benefit to the students of that additional time.”

University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily in an email he had not heard of the petition.

Walia said she was first interested in starting the petition after hearing from colleagues that other top colleges and universities consider economics a STEM major.

She said she found it odd that NU does not classify economics as part of STEM despite its “quantitatively-focused” curriculum.

“I looked into (how economics) is taught at schools like Brown and the way it is taught at Northwestern; it’s virtually identical,” Walia said. “I got frustrated because if Northwestern makes economics STEM it can really change so much for international students.”

Walia said it is “exceptionally important” that the major not only be considered STEM going forward, but also that the change is applied retroactively so that 2017 graduates, such as herself, can benefit.

Aashrey Tiku (Weinberg ’17), an international student who also majored in economics, said the potential change would have “huge implications” for international students, particularly because of the difficult job application process.

Tiku said he had few options when applying for jobs, and was always conscious of the fact that his visa would expire one year after his graduation.

“It definitely has to be on your mind because the visa will only let you be here for one year after you graduate, and it’s on the company’s mind as well,” Tiku said. “That’s why a lot of them don’t accept applications.”

Tiku added that he hopes the petition will make domestic students more aware of the difficult visa process.

Walia also said considering economics as a STEM major could help the University recruit more international students.

“From a Northwestern standpoint, there’s a lot to be gained from this, and of course from a student standpoint there’s a lot to be gained from this,” Walia said. “Isn’t it such a depressing thought that as a student, when you apply for your major, you have to think of it strategically in terms of ‘Will I be able to stay on in the country, or will I not?’”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the length of time students with STEM degrees can stay in the U.S. Students can receive a 24-month extension. The Daily regrets the error.

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