May 9-15, 2003
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Graduation 2003

Centralized approach needed to recruit minority grad students

By Anne Bromley

When a young Argentine came to the United States in 1980 for a medical fellowship, his new neighbors — two children followed by their mother — welcomed him with a homemade cake.

More than 20 years later, Dr. Ariel Gomez, U.Va.’s interim vice president for research and graduate studies, wants to extend a similar welcome to minority graduate students, although the cake’s ingredients would consist of stipends and resources.

That would appeal to graduate student Brandi Collins, even though she just finished the Architecture School’s master’s program in urban and environmental planning.

When she arrived at U.Va. two years ago, she asked where to find resources for minority graduate students, but was told there wasn’t a specific place. Collins helped revive the Black Graduate and Professional Student Organization to do something about that.

She is one of nearly 20 faculty, graduate students and administrators involved with recruiting or admissions whom Senior Vice President William Harmon assembled this past semester to work on a new initiative aimed at attracting and retaining graduate and professional students from under-represented minorities.

It’s a matter of building the ranks of future faculty, Harmon said. For 2002-03, the percentage of minority graduate and professional students was approximately half the percentage of minority undergraduates (see table, below).

“This is more critical in light of the challenge to affirmative action, especially looking at it from a future point of view,” he said. “The institution has a responsibility to develop a diverse cadre of individuals who will teach, conduct research and provide professional services.

“If we don’t do it, who will?”

Comparison of Miniroty Grads & Undergrads


Total number: 12,748

*Number of minorities: 2,949,
or 23 percent

Graduate and Professional Students

Total number: 6,067

*Number of minorities: 728,
or 12 percent

Source: Institutional Assessment and Studies

*Includes African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. Does not include international students and those choosing to remain unclassified.

Top leaders agree that U.Va. needs a centralized, University-wide approach to recruiting minority graduate students that will boost the process departments and schools now handle separately. With support from President John T. Casteen III and Provost Gene Block, as well as Gomez, Harmon checked with all the deans and said he found everyone eager to cooperate.

Harmon’s committee broke into four groups to work on publicity and publications, centralized recruitment, barriers and aspirations, and best practices. Their individual reports will be consolidated into one document with recommendations and submitted to Gomez next month.

The best practices group found that schools and programs run into the same problem when they’re recruiting at national conferences: potential applicants ask about other disciplines and areas of interest at U.Va., but recruiters don’t have the information at hand. That factor could cause U.Va. to lose a good applicant in the tough competition among universities for outstanding graduate students, Harmon said.

In addition, schools, programs and offices would benefit from pooling their resources and sharing the costs for recruitment and retention efforts. The University must develop ways for students to feel attracted to and connected to the whole institution, not just their program or department, Harmon said. They need a central place to go for information about matters such as health care, housing and job prospects for spouses.

Harmon’s task force recently hosted a meeting of minority graduate students to discuss what barriers exist and their aspirations for making the University a more welcoming place.

The students echoed the call for a central office, with a special focus on minority needs, where all graduate students could get information and other services. They also identified a lack of faculty mentoring, inadequate financial support and the need for more ways to connect with other graduate students, Collins noted.

“We need more ways for students to get exposed to each other and to celebrate their achievements,” added Gomez.

To increase financial support, fund raising should be targeted toward creating more assistantships and scholarships, Harmon said, a goal that could be built into the next capital campaign.

In the meantime, the committee is recommending that such a group becomes a permanent part of the research and graduate studies office.


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