March / April 2007
"One of the greatest challenges to filling the pipeline is identifying qualified candidates. Occasionally we find underrepresented minority students who fit the bill, but there is no critical mass. Students simply are not out there. In order to get the numbers that we want, we would have to lower standards and we can’t afford to do that."
When it comes to the issue of recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority graduate students, ideas like the ones above – though often not actually stated – resound loud and clear. Efforts throughout MIT are proving that these assumptions are erroneous at best.
As expressed in its Mission Statement, MIT is “dedicated to providing its students with an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community.” [Emphasis added.] Sheila Widnall, Institute Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics says, “I am proud to be associated with an institution that has as deeply moral and effective a commitment to diversity as does MIT. The Institute has a track record of ‘doing the right thing’ and soaring above the divisiveness that sometimes alienates groups in competition for scarce resources. We celebrate diversity and the absolute belief in the inherent worth of the individual. We are all strengthened and enriched by this commitment. These values bind us together as a community and may be the single most valuable thing that our students take with them when they leave.” By contributing to the creation of a diverse pool of highly qualified scientists, engineers, and academics, MIT is “doing the right thing” while simultaneously contributing to the bottom line of the research enterprise of the Institute and the competitiveness of the nation.
In 2004, the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) resolved to “take all necessary and sufficient steps to increase the percent of…underrepresented minority graduate students by roughly a factor of three (3) within a decade.” This faculty declaration complements a 1998 joint resolution by the Black Graduate Student Association and the Graduate Student Council that urges all academic departments to “place maximum effort and knowledge into recruiting, matriculating, and maintaining the enrollment of underrepresented minority and women students.” Both resolutions, which passed unanimously, reflect an impressive level of congruence around this issue among students and faculty. These actions were the catalyst necessary to challenge the assumptions mentioned above, and as a result, significant steps have been taken to begin changing the landscape by finding those who “simply were not out there.”
The current landscape includes 6,126 enrolled graduate students, and of this number, 307, or 5%, are underrepresented minorities (African American, Hispanic, and Native American).
Programs like the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP), CONVERGE, and the Amgen-UROP Scholars Program, whose existence rests on the support of faculty and graduate students, are successfully working to fill the national and MIT pipeline.
A fall weekend on the MIT campus for those seriously interested in applying to MIT for graduate studies, the CONVERGE program was initiated in the fall of 2004. A faculty committee (the 2006 committee chair was Prof. Sam Allen) selects students to invite. Invitees meet faculty, graduate students, and administrators, and have the opportunity to develop contacts within their primary department of interest. Exposure to graduate life and learning is fundamental to the CONVERGE program. Admission to the program includes travel expenses and housing for three nights. Initially run out of the Office of the Provost, CONVERGE is now run out of the GSO (Graduate Students Office). Filling the Pipeline: Roughly 40% of the initial CONVERGE participants who applied to graduate school at MIT were admitted. For more information, visit web.mit.edu/converge.
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MSRP is a 10-week summer program focused on intense graduate level research, while seeking balance within MIT’s educational triad of academics, research, and community. This program is repeatedly cited by faculty as a promising source of quality research talent. The MSRP operates out of the GSO and works to promote the value of graduate education; to improve the research enterprise through increased diversity; and to prepare and recruit the best and brightest for graduate education at MIT. This summer research assignment, with its faculty-led recruitment and selection process, fosters mutual familiarity between faculty and students. In addition, the program increases the likelihood that faculty members will advocate for underrepresented minority graduate candidates and also builds an affirming peer community that persists beyond the summer.
Filling the Pipeline: Over 150 faculty members from a range of Institute departments have served as mentors to 480 MSRP interns. Almost 95% of all MSRP program participants have gone on to obtain their advanced degrees, with close to 20% attending MIT. Faculty from each of the five Schools are encouraged to serve as summer mentors through the MSRP. For additional information, please visit web.mit.edu/gso/msrp.
The Graduate Students Office was awarded a $1 million grant through the Amgen Foundation to serve as the National Program Office (NPO) for a new 10-institute initiative called the Amgen Scholars Program. This initiative seeks to increase the number of students pursuing advanced degrees in science research fields. The function of the NPO is to provide oversight and guidance for the entire program.
MIT will also serve as one of the 10 institutions that will host 25-30 summer research interns.
MIT’s program is called the Amgen-UROP Scholars Program. Filling the Pipeline: At MIT, 15 of these slots will go to increase the number of minority students who engage in UROPs and the remaining slots will allow non-MIT students to engage in summer research at MIT. For additional information, please visit mit.edu/urop/amgenscholars.
As we continue Filling the Pipeline, we encourage you to join your colleagues in support of these programs. Please feel free to contact us at 617.253.9462 or firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how you can participate.
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