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Dramatically Growing a Graduate Program: A Seed Investment

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Growing and Maintaining Graduate Enrollment

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Paper Authors


Shannon Barker University of Virginia

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Dr. Shannon Barker completed her PhD at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and completed two post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Washington and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, specializing in gene delivery. Shannon has been in graduate higher education leadership for six years both at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Virginia, and is currently the Undergraduate Program Director for the University of Virginia's Department of Biomedical Engineering.

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Amy Clobes University of Virginia Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Amy M. Clobes is committed to supporting current and future graduate students as Director of Graduate Programs for the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science. In her current role, Dr. Clobes collaborates to support existing programs and develops new initiatives in graduate student recruitment, training, education, and career and professional development. Dr. Clobes holds a B.S. in Biology from the University of Michigan and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Virginia. Her combined experience in STEM research and education, program development, and student advising are key to her dedication and success in creating opportunities for graduate students to achieve their education and career goals.

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Jasmine D. Crenshaw University of Virginia

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Dr. Jasmine D. Crenshaw is the Director of Diversity Programs in the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of Virginia. She collaborates with students, faculty, and staff to establish programs aimed to cultivate a supportive environment for all and recruits diverse community members. She holds a Bachelor of Science in physics from North Carolina A&T State University and PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Florida. Her graduate research focused on the self-assembly of Biomolecular motor proteins during active transport for drug delivery applications. Dr. Crenshaw has a keen awareness in the value, purpose, and need for academic support initiatives for students from underrepresented and underserved populations.

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Increasing the number of outstanding PhD students is a seed investment. PhD students are critical to the research enterprise, and increasing their numbers has a positive effect on research outcomes. Likewise, PhD students play an important role in mentorship of undergraduate students.

A strategic, coordinated, and comprehensive marketing and communication program aimed at increasing the PhD student population was developed. The overall strategy focused on educating prospective students about our world-class research and commitment to diversity. Tools used include: • Two categories of digital market campaigns: one focused on reputation-building targeted to top engineering schools, HBCUs, and other minority-serving institutions; and one focused on increasing yield after admission offers are made. • A rigorous conference recruitment schedule, including booths and/or event sponsorship with the following organizations: GEM, Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, Grace Hopper Celebration, Black Engineer of the Year Award, and Tau Beta Pi. • On-campus recruitment events that introduce prospective students to faculty and current graduate students, demonstrate all the resources available at the School, and highlight the beauty and culture of the region. • A Holistic PhD Admissions Rubric built into the central application system that aids faculty through best practices in graduate admission. • A large internal pool of fellowships for incoming students, including one for students with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion, one for the top 5-10% of the applicant pool, and one allowing faculty to take on a much-needed graduate student while his/her grant proposals may still be in the pipeline. The School also takes advantage of other sources of fellowships, including the VA-NC Louis Stokes Advancing Minority Participation Bridge-to-Doctorate Fellowships, GEM Fellowships, and other institutional fellowships.

By reaching a wide diversity of prospective applicants with a powerful message of what the School does best, by ensuring that applicants are reviewed using evidence-based practices on admissions, and by providing financial stability in the form of funding, the School has meet many of its goals. The number of PhD applicants increased from 780 in 2016 to 1,151 in 2019, a 48% increase. The number admitted increased from 202 in 2016 to 350 in 2019, a 73% increase. The number matriculating increased from 105 in 2016 to 189 in 2019, an 80% increase. The quality of these students when using traditional academic metrics like GPA and GRE scores did not change over these four years.

The School has a strong commitment to increase the diversity of its graduate student body. Though much work remains in this space, we’ve made some gains. The percentage of matriculating PhD students who were female increased from 30% in 2016 to 36% in 2019. The number of domestic underrepresented minorities in STEM (Black/African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Pacific Islander) PhD applicants in 2016 was 19, but increased to 54 in 2019, a 184% increase. Four domestic URM in STEM PhD students matriculated in 2016, while 12 matriculated in 2019, a 200% increase.

Barker, S., & Clobes, A., & Crenshaw, J. D. (2020, June), Dramatically Growing a Graduate Program: A Seed Investment Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34480

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