03/13/2014 05:15 pm ET Updated May 13, 2014

STEM Initiative Is Great: Just Not for the Humanities

"It's just a phase," my mother pleads to her coalition of Asian moms, her hands gesticulating as she feebly attempts to explain my brother's choice of major: ethnic studies.

Although he did eventually repent -- he's happily starting medical school soon -- I can't help but think about the other students who switch from the humanities to the sciences after they realize that their true passions yield risky career prospects, that their fields are so marginalized that hordes are jumping ship now before they sink.

As a student of both, I'm alarmed, especially when our schools seem to encourage this mindset. I'm not denying the importance of STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- fields, but we cannot allow equally important subjects in the humanities to shrink in U.S. classrooms.

Because let's face it: the humanities get a bad rap. When I considered studying English in college, my mom sat me down gravely, let out a sigh and told me that my adult years would amount to pretentious, tortured poets as friends; manuscript rejections dulled only by instant coffee; and a life culminating in a lonely, cold death in my inevitably ratty apartment. Gee, thanks mom.

Still, she does have a point. Improving STEM skills in students has become the focus of our education, and educators are throwing money at these fields because they are deeply intertwined with the economic fabric and global standing of our nation.

Indeed, while science funding has stayed relatively constant, national backing for the humanities has dropped. Critics question the tangible and practical benefits of a liberal arts education. They question the value of pursuing history through multiple lenses to analyze human interaction, of studying culture and anthropology to study human behavior and of searching for meaning in streaks of art and the cadence of words to understand human thought.

Because this is what the humanities teach us: they teach us about ourselves -- our values, our emotions and our principles. In the most diverse country in an increasingly interconnected world, it is critical that we understand how to communicate and cooperate with others.

Isn't that what education is all about? It's not about preparing us for hefty salaries or job markets; it's about cultivating the whole person.

Perhaps my physics textbook might equip me with equations to map out falling objects, but To Kill a Mockingbird taught me how to empathize with vastly different people, Chinese classes taught me about the complexity and importance of respecting traditions and European history sparked my interest in human rights and social justice.

If STEM fields chug out inventions, the humanistic disciplines analyze their larger ramifications on human life. If the sciences test questions, the humanities decide the best questions to answer.

Despite their importance, these fields are shrinking at a drastic rate. Colleges across the globe report large drops in humanities majors, and their departments are facing the consequences. SUNY Albany threatened to end various language and classics programs in 2010. Middlesex University in the U.K. announced the closure of its Philosophy department in the same year. Even at my school, the science department received thousands of dollars through a STEM grant from Google this year (which was spent mostly on comfortable chairs), while our art classes use secondhand brushes and our journalism program uses 10 year-old computers.

Of course, science and technology are incredibly important in today's world, and encouraging more educational exposure to STEM fields is a noble and valuable goal for future innovation and discovery.

But when I see passionate students who end up lifeless in other fields, when I hear about novels and paintings left unfinished for a salary in computer science, I feel the need to speak up -- a need that the humanities has instilled in me.