Recruiting and retaining minority students: How current graduate students can help

As graduate students, it can feel as though we have little power to change institutional practices that would increase diversity in a meaningful way. However, my own experience has shown that current graduate students can take action to encourage their university to add or improve diversity initiatives. I wanted to take this blog post as an opportunity to highlight some successful initiatives being implemented by universities across the country and then to suggest some ways that we, as students, can help enact change. It is my hope that by sharing these ideas, they can be adopted in more places and further improved.


Many universities are beginning to recognize that an effective way to attract talented minority applicants is to simply make the effort to recruit at conferences and universities with many minority undergrads. Universities already send representatives to conferences, and by choosing to recruit at new places, they are able to diversify their applicant pool and make a PhD seem attainable.

In a similar vein, some universities have begun hosting diversity preview weekends for minority students. I know that such a weekend was key in my decision of where to go to undergrad; thus, I am hopeful that such programs will similarly help convince more minority students to pursue a graduate degree. Yale University recently started a pilot program of this sort after a couple of students decided to meet with the graduate school’s diversity office to suggest it. Many other universities are also looking for ways to increase diversity on campus and may similarly be open to such a program. If you are mentoring any minority undergrads, then I would highly encourage you to direct them to Científico Latino, which lists many more programs of this sort, including ones at Georgia Tech, Ohio State, and MIT.


One of the frequent comments I have received from administrators when trying to increase diversity and inclusion on campus has been that it is “impossible” to get faculty to do anything. Therefore, I am always incredibly inspired (and heartened) by programs that have successfully motivated faculty to support diversity initiatives. A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sherilynn Black, the Associate Vice President of Faculty Development at Duke University, when she came to campus to speak about her success increasing the acceptance and inclusion of minority graduate students at Duke. (If you’d like to hear Dr. Black speak about persisting in STEM as a minority, then check out her inspiring talk from the 2016 SACNAS Conference.)

I was particularly impressed by her continual insistence that faculty members should be taking a larger role in creating a supportive environment for minority students and that the burden of diversity work should not be placed on the students themselves. This was particularly inspiring, as she has actually managed to increase faculty buy-in through “culturally-aware mentoring” workshops that faculty are required to attend if their graduate students are on certain grants.

These trainings are successful, in part, because they make faculty members aware of their own culture and background, and thus more accepting of where their student’s background might be different. Furthermore, they assume that most faculty members do want to be effective mentors and frame the trainings through this lens. Duke has also put together an extensive site devoted to mentoring, if you’d like to check out more resources on this topic.

Suggestions for making these a reality

If you’d like to increase minority graduate student recruitment and retention at your university, here are some tips from my own experiences to get you started.

  1. Collaborate with the other diversity groups on campus: As my mom used to say, “many hands make light work;” besides, many voices raised together are harder to ignore. To that end, my gradSWE section increases our reach by collaborating with other diversity groups. These groups have connections with administrators beyond the ones we normally interact with, who can help provide funding or institutional support for our ideas. Furthermore, these groups intimately know the problems facing their own members; together we can craft solutions that support all under-represented groups.
  2. Start at the department level: I have found it much easier to encourage faculty who I already have a relationship with to come to diversity events. Additionally, I have found that trainings at the department level can increase buy-in, particularly when the department chair is supportive of the events.
  3. Find sponsors and advocates: Finding the administrators or professors who care about these issues–and are willing to champion them–can make all the difference in turning your recruitment and retention ideas into reality. In addition to providing funding, they can also encourage their colleagues to support your initiatives and attend trainings.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask: If you have ideas of how you can improve your department or school, schedule a meeting with administrators to share them. From my work on our university’s Title IX board, I learned that oftentimes, administrators don’t realize something is a problem for graduate students because no one has spoken up. Even if you are unsuccessful in pitching your idea, you may find some other program that you can help implement or lay the groundwork for the next person who makes a similar request.
  5. Don’t give up: While many schools profess a commitment to increasing diversity, it is an uphill battle to realize change. Administrators will often be unwilling to make large changes, but keep advocating for and supporting your fellow graduate students. Together, we will be able to realize more inclusive graduate programs.

Other ideas?

I’ll end this blog post by inviting you to share with me any additional programs that you know of that have been successful in increasing the recruitment or retention of minority students. If you email these stories to me at, I would love to feature them in further blog posts. Whether it is something your university’s diversity office has implemented or a program run by your SWE section, please send it my way.




Advancing International Engagement of Women in Engineering

GradSWEsters we are approaching a unique day in the year, regarded as International Women in Engineering Day. International Women in Engineering Day will take place on June 23rd across the globe to help celebrate women in engineering as well as encouraging more diverse girls and women to consider engineering as a career.

I would encourage each of you to do your part in inspiring our future generation of women to explore exciting careers and opportunities in engineering. This encouragement can include getting more involved in outreach activities in your campus or professional communities as well as simply having a conversation sharing what you do as a graduate student and/or professional.

Furthermore, I also motivate you to acknowledge the women trendsetters who came before you and paved the way for excellence in engineering. Keep supporting your peers to engage in exciting research, technical problem solving, and innovative discoveries in engineering.

As I bid farewell as your FY18 Social Media Coordinator, keep these suggestions in mind as we move into another anticipated year of SWE service and engagement.  As members of SWE, let’s keep pushing for record breaking participation and increase our reach to women all over the globe.  Stay empowered to continue breaking barriers and making unparalleled contributions in engineering.

If you are still not sure where to start or you are looking for a great resource for advancement, join us at WE18 in October!

Let’s continue to Aspire, Advance and Achieve in 2018 and beyond!!


Making the most of summer in Grad School

Hello Grad SWE community! My name is Amy Zheng. I am the newly elected Developmental Mentoring Coordinator. I am a first year Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University.

Since this is my first summer doing research full-time as a graduate student, I have been thinking about ways to make my summer more fulfilling, in life and in my research.

  1. Set summer and weekly goals


Every semester I schedule a meeting with my advisor to assess my research goals for the semester and come up with next steps. This has been really helpful since I am a goal-orientated person. I love crossing out items on my to-do list.


This strategy also helps me look at the big picture. It is a time where my advisor and I can come to an understanding on where we hope the project will go.


  1. Look up deadlines for upcoming grants and scholarships


Some of the most prestigious fellowships, such as the NSF GRFP, are due in the early fall. The summer is a great time to start looking at previous applications. For the GRFP, I found the website below to be especially helpful.


I also find it helpful to talk with my advisor and mentors about my proposal outline. The summer is also a great time to start looking for workshops and writing seminars for the fellowships and grants you plan to apply for. At many universities, workshops for the NSF GRFP are held in the fall.


  1. Plan time to exercise at least once a week


I try to exercise before lunch. It helps me break up my work day and keeps me from getting drowsy in the afternoon. It also makes my lunch seem extra tasty! I try to hit the gym at least once a week. Many university gyms include exercise classes so it makes creating a weekly schedule much easier.


  1. Leaving your office for lunch


When I feel like I’ve spent too much time at my desk, I go to the outdoor seating area and eat lunch. Smelling the fresh air does wonders for lowering my stress. While I eat lunch, I usually look up recipes that I want to make for future meals or watch Youtube videos. I try to treat my lunch as an opportunity to learn something new outside of work.


  1. Taking a weekend trip


After working in the lab on weekends and not leaving town, I find myself getting sluggish and stir-crazy. Blocking off a weekend to take a short trip has helped me feel refreshed. Being in a new environment and having new experiences can make your struggles in the lab seem less immense. A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Atlanta and explored the city for the weekend. When I return on Monday, my mind was refreshed and ready to work on planning experiments and reading papers.

Will we see you at WE18?

GradSWE has put together a form to fill out if you are looking for a roommate or travel companion or just want to connect with others at the conference.

Important WE18 programs and funding opportunities:

Poster and Rapid Fire Research Competitions Deadline: June 15, 2018  
For more details on the application process: Submission Information 
These competitions are open to all SWE collegiate undergraduate and graduate members. Top 10 finalists in each category (Undergraduate Poster, Graduate Poster, Undergraduate Rapid Fire, Graduate Rapid Fire) will present at WE18, October 18-20 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Subject matter is to be related to original research or work with an application in engineering. Winners for each category will receive cash prizes (1st place $300; 2nd place $200; 3rd place $100). Questions can be sent to emilyhoffman18 [at] gmail [dot] com.
We18 Registration Grants
Thanks to many generous donations, SWE will be offering registration grants for SWE members who need financial assistance to attend WE18.  Deadline to apply is June 30, 2018.

Academic Leadership for Women in Engineering – Applications Open!
The purpose of ALWE is to provide female academics in engineering with tangible skills to pursue, acquire and maintain institutional leadership positions at a university. SWE also hopes this program will provide women with skills that will help them personally grow as a leader. With the support of the ASSIST grant, SWE will be able to fund up to 40 engineering early faculty, post-doctoral professionals, and graduate students to attend ALWE. Participants in the program will experience interactive sessions that provide best practices to advance in academia while creating opportunities and mechanisms to network across institutions. Applications are due July 31, 2018.

Collegiate Leadership Institute Applications Open!
This program provides collegiate-specific sessions on career and leadership skills at SWE’s Annual Conference, WE18. Participants learn from career and leadership experts, gain new skills, and network with current and future SWE professionals. Applications are due June 30, 2018.

If you’re not a SWE member, colliegates can join for $50! The C2C membership lasts through your first year after graduating. 





















Webinar Announcement!!!

Please mark your calendars for a webinar presented by Dr. Jenna Carpenter on Wednesday, June 20th from 1-2 CDT. (Watch your inboxes for registration information!) Dr. Carpenter will be presenting on “STEM Success for Women: Research based Strategies to Guide your Path”, which she describes as:

“Research shows that women in STEM fields face some unique career challenges, but it also identifies strategies that can help them succeed. We will examine issues and solutions for managing implicit bias, effective communication and power and influence”

Participants can expect to learn how to:

1.) Identify key issues impacting the success of women in STEM fields

2.) Describe research-based strategies for successfully managing around these issues.

3.) Understand how to begin applying one or more strategies to their own challenges

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Carpenter before the webinar –  be sure to check out her Tedx talk and see her bio below:

Dr. Jenna Carpenter is Founding Dean and Professor of Engineering at Campbell University in North Carolina. A national expert on innovative STEM education and success of women in STEM, she regularly speaks around the country. She has a TEDx talk (“Engineering: Where are the girls and why aren’t they here?”) and has been featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education, US News and World Report, Big Beacon Radio and more. Currently she chairs the ASEE Long Range Planning Committee and is a Co-Chair Elect for the ASEE Undergraduate Experience Committee. Carpenter is co-Principal Investigator for a National Science Foundation grant on Professional Development Emphasizing Data-Centered Resources and Pedagogies for Instructors of Undergraduate Introductory Statistics. Carpenter chairs the MAA Council on the Profession and co-chairs the mathematical societies Joint Committee on Women.

SWEet Summer of No Regrets

The summer season is quickly approaching with its official reign kicking in next month and perhaps for some of you the summer season has already begun.

For many professionals, the summer can bring a season of long awaited vacations and better weather to enjoy time with family or friends. For collegiates, perhaps it is the same or this season brings time to take make up or preparatory classes for fall semester and/or get moving in their research projects.

Whatever the summer season brings you, be sure to embrace it with no regrets and filled with great adventure. To help ensure you do not have a summer full of dissapointment or repentance, I have several tips for you to consider over the next few months:

Follow Your Dreams and Trust Your Gut

This is your life to live and your path to pave out -be sure to do what is in your best interest and adhere to your instincts.  You may not want to look back at that missed road trip or that incomplete paper submission before September rolls around.  If you feel strongly about a decision, trust your instinct and go for it.  You should take time to really evaluate what your dreams and passions are and align your action items with these desires.  Make the most of this summer and truly drive toward what bring you the most happiness.

Do Not Take Things Too Seriously and Take Risks

This thing called life is full of adventure and that may mean taking some risks.  Dare to dive in GradSWEsters.  If things do not work out, pick yourself up and keep walking forward.  Do not necessarily take things to the extreme and too serious as life should be enjoyable along the way.   Take time to enjoy the moments and different stages or settings the summer brings along -you may not be in this position forever.  It is okay to smile and have a laugh every once in a while (or more!).

Express Your Love for Others

You know I hear each day is a gift and that is why this day is called the present -be sure to make the most of it.  This includes letting your friends know how much you appreciate them and/or expressing your admiration for your family members.  Be sure your supportive circle know that you care and appreciate what they do for you.  The words “Thank You” can go along way.  Do not miss the opportunity to show your gratitude for those who have impacted you life whether in a large or miniscule way.

And do not fret, if you felt this past academic year was remorseful or this most recent semester was dreadful, turn the page and look forward to the future beginning with the summer months ahead. Forgiveness is huge!!  Forgiveness of others is one thing you can work on this summer, but forgiveness of yourself should not be overlooked as well.  Take action from learned lessons this past year and do not stay stuck in your current position especially with a bright summer season ahead.

Let’s keep moving forward and shine!

“So, are you a grad student or…?” : some comments on my gap year

My Facebook and Instagram feeds have been filled with caps and gowns the last few weeks, so I thought I’d start this post with a sincere congratulations to everyone who’s graduated recently! I received my bachelors about a year ago, and have so many wonderful memories of my last few weeks of college. It’s truly a special time and I hope you’re soaking up every minute of it.

I wanted to write this post because it was about this time a year ago that I decided to forego grad school and instead do a gap year. I’ve been asked about it many times over the last year, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to share about it in a bit more detail.


I applied to several grad schools in the fall of my senior year, and received offers and rejections in the spring, just as anyone else. I visited several schools, and accepted an offer based primarily on the great connection I had with my potential advisor. However, as weeks went on, I realized I made a mistake, and needed to rectify it before it was too late. It wasn’t that I had any doubt about the quality of the program or advisor, but I was interested in a bunch of topics, and I really wanted to make the most out of my time as a grad student. I didn’t want to make it 2-3 years and realize I didn’t really like my project, and wish I had picked something else. So I reached out to my advisor and explained the situation, and he was beyond understanding. He agreed that this was a major decision, and that I needed to be sure. He had also taken a gap year, and thought it was one of the best decisions he’d ever made. So we essentially agreed to defer my admission until I figured this out.

A few hours after we had this conversation, I got an invitation to a summer program focused on a field of research I’d always wanted to explore, and I accepted immediately. While there, I got an offer for a gap year position from the program’s organizer, who happened to work at a university I [thought I] really wanted to attend, and I accepted that as well. So, for the last year, I got to explore a field of research I was interested in without making the full commitment of a PhD, and without committing to a particular program or advisor. I described myself as a ‘fake grad student’. It was wonderful! I got to do research full time (no classes, no TA-ing), and I learned a brand new research technique from a world-renowned expert. Since I devoted all of my time to research, I had time to present at two conferences, and draft a paper. I also learned what I valued most out of my grad school experience — the opportunity to explore multiple areas of research, consistent communication with my advisor, and, honestly, finishing relatively quickly.

As of a few weeks ago, I started my graduate work at my undergraduate institution, working on a few different projects that I’m very excited about under an advisor I know and with whom I work very well. So, on the one hand, it took me a year to get to the same place I was before. On the other, I learned a lot more about my interests, expanded my network, and learned what types of environments I work best in! I don’t regret it at all, and sincerely believe it will lead to a much more productive and happier time as a graduate student.

Now, for a more concise list of pros and cons:


  • More time to explore interests
  • Lots of time for professional development (no classes, no TA-ing)
  • More experience could potentially lead to acceptances by more prestigious programs


  • Literally delaying the start of graduate study
  • Loneliness (my research group was fantastic, but it’s hard being without a cohort)
  • Typically categorized as ‘temp employee’, which has less benefits than regular employees and students

If you’re considering a gap year, here’s a few options for going about finding something to do:

  • National labs!  National labs have actual positions for gap years, called ‘post-bacc researchers’. Apply for them directly online!
  • Email professors directly to inquire about possibly working for them — gap year students are much cheaper than grad students (no tuition to pay for!), so it’s as much a benefit for the professor as for you
  • Ask mentors from your undergraduate institution if they have any leads


In conclusion, one of the most interesting things I learned during my gap year was just how common my situation was. Whenever I’d tell people I was taking a gap year, a surprising number told me they did one too! And then lots more told me they wished they’d considered one. Now, that’s certainly not to say that a gap year is for everyone. I know many people that went straight to graduate school and were very happy with their decision. Some people just have that one thing that really fascinates and excites them, and they can’t wait to get at it. But some of us want a bit more time to decide, and that’s fine too.


If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to share!