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.

Recruitment

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.

Retention

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 gradswe.dil@gmail.com, 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.

 

 

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Introducing SWE’s Affinity Groups

In my first blog post, I mentioned SWE’s Affinity Groups (AGs); over the past semester, I have been in contact with the lead for each AG to learn more about each and to learn some ways that grad students can get involved. It is my pleasure to share this information with the gradSWE community through this post.

What is an affinity group?

Claudia Galván, the SWE Affinity groups lead, says:

“The SWE Affinity Groups (AGs) are communities of individuals who share the same interests and goals… The focus of these groups is to build community, provide professional development and recognition opportunities.”

The affinity groups are currently being reorganized and have been grouped under two umbrellas:

  • Diversity and Inclusion Networks: Latinos, African-American, Native American, LGBTQ
  • Business Networks:  Women in Government, Entrepreneurs, Small Business and Global Engineers.

More information about this reorganization and the affinity groups themselves will be in an upcoming SWE All Together article.

How can I get more involved?

If after reading the descriptions of the AGs below, you would like to get more involved with one, then Facebook is a great way to see what specific events and activities a given AG is up to. If you have more questions, then email Claudia Galván (ag-coordinator@swe.org) and she would be happy to answer them.

A current priority of the AGs is building their leadership pipeline; they are looking for leads for Building Community, Professional Development and Awards.  If getting involved with a given AG or the program as a whole sounds interesting to you, then email Claudia Galván, SWE AG Lead (ag-coordinator@swe.org).

Meet the AGs:

African-American AG

The African-American AG is led by Rose Margaret Itua, Associate Professor of Engineering, Ohlone College. The group is focusing on developing the partnership with NSBE (SWE and NSBE have a joint membership!) and bringing a voice and representation of the African-American Community into the industry.

Follow them on Twitter #SWEAfricanAmericanAG and  #SWExNSBE or like them on Facebook: : https://www.facebook.com/groups/1726422537620243/

Entrepreneurs

The Entrepreneurs AG is led by  Courtney Sanders, Entrepreneur at ExecuVentures and Katherine Culbert Co-Founder at K and K Process. The Entrepreneurs AG is focused on creating a community to share resources and help support startups in various stages of development. Their current priority is to build the entrepreneurs community to show that entrepreneurship is a viable career path for female engineers.

Follow them on Twitter: #SWEEntrepreneursAG or Join their FB Page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/188431004915171/

Global Engineers

The Global Engineers, led by Davida Gondohusodo located in Jakarta, Indonesia, is a global community which consists of SWE international members including expats and Friends of SWE to develop a network and provide professional development and empowerment opportunities. During their first year, the priorities of the Global Engineers are to:

  • Build the leadership team,
  • Understand the needs of the global (non US) community,
  • Work with the ambassadors and senators to come up with an overall international strategy aligned with the SWE Membership Committee Goals.

You can join their facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1101289266633848/

Latinos

Ivelisse Del Valle Figueroa is the Co-chair of the Latinos AG Affinity Group. Their group comprises of people from Latino backgrounds and diversity allies. Their goals is to build a community of SWE Latino members, and provide professional opportunities and empowerment. This year they are providing visibility to their members by spotlighting them on their Facebook group and encouraging their members to engage in speaking opportunities and award nominations. They are also highlighting SWE’s partnership with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Graduate students may find a lot of opportunities through their AG, including: learning about speaking opportunities to talk about their research and getting recognized for their work. They are eager to engage more graduate students and would love to hear from gradSWE members on how to do this better.

Here is the link to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1796372620644033/

LGBTQ and Allies

LGBTQ & Allies AG is led by Marcie, an Electrical Engineer at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning (LGBTQ) students and employees face unique challenges in college and in the workplace, and this group is focusing on helping members navigate those challenges, as well as being a resource to SWE leadership. The privacy and safety of our LGBTQ members is key. The group is growing the partnership with the National Organization of LGBTQ Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP), and bringing a better understanding, voice and representation of LGBTQ engineers in the industry and within SWE.

Follow them on Twitter: #SWELGBTQAG and join their FB group:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1408337772528054/

Also, since privacy is important, anyone can have their name added to the LGBTQ and Allies email list by contacting Claudia.  Emails are sent with the list blind copied.

Native American

The Native American AG is led by Laura Smith-Velazquez, Sr. Systems Engineer/Cognitive Scientist at Rockwell Collins. Native Americans represent a very small percentage of engineering graduates and face unique challenges including lack of critical mass. The group is focusing on developing the partnership with AESIS and bringing a voice and representation to the Native American Community in the industry.

Follow us on Twitter #SWENativeAG and join the SWE Native American FB page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/18843, 1004915171/

Small Business

The Small Business Affinity Group is led by Stephanie DeCotiis, Senior Project Engineer at H2M architects + engineers, and Heather Bernardin, Senior IT Consultant at KSM Technology Partners. Employees of small businesses have their own dynamics and challenges. This group is focusing on building a network and sharing resources to support SWE members who are employees of small business.  This group also seeks to be a resource for information and feedback of the small business perspective to other SWE committees and groups.  This AG is new to SWE and is in its first year.  If you’re interested in participating, please follow along on social media, or reach out to the group leads.

Follow along on Twitter: #SWESmallBusinessAG and join their FB page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SWESmallBusinessAG 

Women in Government

The Women in Government AG is led by Dr. Ruth Jones, Mishap Investigation Specialist at the NASA Safety Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Women in Government in Engineering are a strong contingency focusing on supporting and developing women in the engineering profession within the government framework. Join Women in Government AG- https://www.facebook.com/groups/1845889725680220/

 

 

 

Making Mentors Long-Term

Once you have established a relationship with a mentor through multiple emails, phone calls or meetings, its important to transition them to a long-term mentor.  Be honest and establish an expectation of how often you will contact them. It’s good to email them every 3-6 months with an update on your career and if you are comfortable, your personal life. My emails generally talk about my current job, if I am considering a switch in careers and an update about my daughter who just started walking.

What about mentors I have not contacted in awhile?

Consider the mentors you have now, when was the last time you contacted them?  Most mentors are understanding that you are busy and will email or call when you want to talk. Email them an update, worst case they do not answer. More than likely you will not keep every mentor you have ever had throughout your career.

Tips of Making Long-term Mentors:

  • Email every 3-6 months
  • Remember to ask them about their personal or professional life
  • Highlight your own personal or professional changes or accomplishments
  • Consider a phone call if you are comfortable

What is Your Brand?

What is a Brand?
A brand is an image a person or product puts out to the world, or how it or they are perceived. For you, your career brand is your image, your reputation. It’s your promise of excellence, your distinctive characteristics that set you apart from other workers and job-seekers.

Why is Branding Important?
Branding allows you to be consistent and authentic. When competing for jobs or awards, you have a clear consistent message of who you and what you have accomplished.

What is Your Brand?
Who are you? Not just in your career but also in life. If this is a hard question, consider answering the questions below and start making your brand.

Where to Start?
You want to brand yourself and have no idea where to start. The first question to answer is what three adjectives would you use to describe yourself? How would others describe you?

If how others describe you is not how you want to be perceived, consider changing your behavior. For example, if you want to be known as a dedicated, strong leadership and goal-oriented, exhibit those behaviors.

Where to Go Next?
Review some of the questions below and start to think about what you want your brand to be!
  • What do you value?
  • What are your passions?
  • How do you accomplish your tasks or goals?
  • How do you accomplish the complex tasks?
  • What do others come to you for?
  • What adjectives do people use to describe you?