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.
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