Administrators agree that while there is still much progress to be made, their efforts to increase the number of underrepresented minority graduate students across the University have been successful.

“We work on this a lot,” Vice Provost for Education Andrew Binns said in regard to recruitment efforts in Penn’s 12 graduate schools.

“We’d like to be better … we always want to be better,” he added.

The recruitment initiatives for minorities and which groups are considered a minority differ depending on the specific graduate program and the school.

The doctoral programs at Penn, for example, have a more centralized recruitment process than other programs because the University awards these degrees, Binns said.

One of the University’s newest diversity recruitment initiatives is the Ivy Plus STEM Symposium, which brought together the eight Ivy League schools and some of the nation’s other leading universities with undergraduates for an overview of doctoral studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related fields.

Binns said that the symposium had two primary goals: to communicate with undergraduate students and to inform the administrators at their respective colleges of the graduate opportunities at Ivy Plus universities. He said that many qualified minority students may not consider applying to a top school such as Penn, so it is important to inform them and their administrators of the potential here.

There are some challenges, however, to encouraging students to apply for a Ph.D. Associate Dean for graduate studies in the School of Arts and Sciences Ralph Rosen explained that dedicating several years to earning a doctoral degree and then presumably entering academia is not always attractive to college students. “There are more obvious career choices …. It’s easier to see your way to a career in some of the professional schools” instead.

Binns agreed with this sentiment, noting that many diversity candidates may feel obligated to choose career paths that pay more or pay sooner.

Another issue is that many prospective applicants don’t know that Penn’s Ph.D. programs are fully funded and that students are given stipends to live on. Rosen said this is one of the reasons why the pipeline — the direct path from undergraduate to graduate studies—is so important. “You need to get the word out there [about funding].”

Doctoral programs are not the only ones that face challenges. Nancy Tkacs, the assistant dean for diversity and cultural affairs at the School of Nursing, said it can be difficult to encourage people who already have full-time jobs in the field of nursing to go back to school for further professional study.

Tkacs said that some Philadelphia employers offer tuition benefits for nurses who decide to pursue graduate studies, which helps with increasing the Nursing School’s number of black students. Students from the area are able to remain in their homes and keep part-time nursing jobs while using these benefits.

“But it is also a challenge because it doesn’t give us a geographic diversity,” said Tkacs of the tuition benefits program. She added that the Nursing School is always trying to increase its national outreach.

One way the school has been doing so is by increasing its online presence. “We have to come into the current time,” said Tkacs, stating that they have been dedicating a lot of effort to recruitment through social media.

Paule Joseph, a candidate for a Ph.D. in Nursing, emphasized the dual complexity of encouraging minority students to apply for doctorate degrees and go back to school after having practiced in the field. She said the number of minority applicants actually applying for Ph.Ds needs to be considered when discussing diversity, noting that several factors such as careers and family impact the decision to pursue graduate studies.

She added that she is pleased with Nursing’s efforts to recruitment minority students and that “they do a pretty good job in terms of supporting minority students.” Some of this support comes from her membership and position on the Coordinating Committee of the Fontaine Society, which supports underrepresented minority Ph.D. students across the University.

The Perelman School of Medicine has competitive numbers of African-American and Latino students in comparison to other medical schools of its stature in M.D. and M.D.-Ph.D. programs. For these specific programs, the school must follow the Association of American Medical Colleges’ definition of who is considered an underrepresented minority.

Gail Morrison, the school’s senior vice dean for education said AAMC’s definition includes African Americans, Latinos, students with disabilities, those from underserved financial backgrounds, returning veterans and women.”

One group left out of this definition is Asian students, who have higher numbers than African-American and Latino students in the M.D. programs without being targeted as a minority.

International students also add to the diversity of graduate students across the University. Uri Hangorsky, associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Dental Medicine, said, for example, that the Dental School’s program allows licensed dentists from other countries to pursue an accelerated degree from Penn, which increases the diversity of the school each year.

All of these administrators agree that while they are both proud of their progress and students, they will continue the conversation on recruiting underrepresented minorities and will continue to use a broad definition of diversity.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.