Recruitment weekend for admits bolsters diversity effort

Anika Green

Justine Pompey (center) chats with current and prospective students at a lunch at a professor’s home for Graduate Diversity Admit Weekend.

Justine Pompey was doing her usual Monday-morning commute, but the decision she was about to make was one that could forever change her life.

On that April 11, as she headed to her fellowship at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the 22-year-old aspiring bioscientist was weighing which of five graduate programs in microbiology and immunology she should choose to attend. Her thoughts kept going back to the previous weekend that she had spent at Stanford.

Before Pompey had reached her office, she had made up her mind. "I knew Stanford was the best place for me to be," she recalled.

Pompey, who is African-American, had just returned from Stanford University's Graduate Diversity Admit Weekend, a three-day recruitment event for underrepresented minorities and other students from underrepresented backgrounds who have been admitted to a Stanford graduate program. Encompassing both university-wide and program-specific activities, the weekend provides its participants with another look at Stanford before April 15, the national deadline for committing to enroll.

Forty-seven diversity students, approximately a third of those admitted to graduate programs university-wide this year, opted to attend the April 7-9 event. Pompey was one of seven from the School of Medicine's PhD Program in the Biosciences.

While Pompey had visited the school in March for Biosciences Interview Weekend, she was then one in a crowd of 239 applicants on the campus. At that time, she had left wondering if her impression of the school was accurate "or if everyone had put on a happy face just to impress me."

By contrast, the recruitment weekend offered a different perspective. "It was more of an everyday experience, more relaxed," she said. "I had time to soak things in and figure out how I feel here."

"Soaking in" is exactly what the weekend organizers aim to achieve.

The participants stayed with hosts in graduate student housing. There were some activities—such as a dinner with University President John Hennessy and a tour of San Francisco—that were for admits to the Schools of Humanities & Sciences, Education, Engineering, Earth Sciences and Business as well as the School of Medicine.

But there were also activities specific to the biosciences admits. Anika Green, director of the biosciences diversity program, organized discussions with alumni about career paths, one-on-one meetings with professors whose research interests matched the admits' and a lunch with students and faculty at the home of Ellen Porzig, PhD, associate dean for graduate education.

"Being outside of the stress of the interview process," said Green, "frees you to ask all of the questions you didn't think to ask when you were trying to get in."

The PhD program's participation in the weekend event, as well as recruitment efforts by the MD program, are part of a larger initiative under way at the School of Medicine to increase diversity in all areas of ethnicity, class, gender, religion, culture and life experiences.

"Enhancing and expanding the diversity of our students and faculty will enrich our ability to address some of the important global challenges of our century," said Dean Philip Pizzo, MD. "A multicultural and multiethnic community of scholars at Stanford will contribute to our missions in education, research and patient care and is among my highest priorities for further defining and leading the future of the School of Medicine."

Increasing diversity is particularly important to the PhD Program in Biosciences because it ensures research at the school remains relevant to the diverse needs of society, said Green, who describes the general lack of diversity in the sciences as a self-perpetuating problem. "Unless you personally know someone in the basic sciences," she said, "getting a PhD and pursuing research is not going to occur to you as a career option."

The recruitment weekend underscores Stanford's commitment to fostering diversity. "Inviting all of these students back for [this gathering] is not a cheap venture," said Green. "We pay for everything. When it comes to diversity, it is one thing to say what you are going to do. It's another thing to actually do it."

Stanford's commitment did not go unnoticed by Pompey. Of the five schools she initially considered, Stanford was one of two that had a diversity program. "It was a big plus," she said. "I didn't want to go to an environment where I'd only interact with one kind of student."

With this year's admission process complete, the PhD Program in the Biosciences considers its third year at the diversity admit weekend "a great success," said Porzig. Six of the weekend's seven attendees decided to accept the program's offer. Of the 84 PhD candidates incoming next September, 14 are underrepresented minorities.

"This is a year in which all applicants had compelling offers from other schools," said Porzig. "We couldn't be happier that they are going to join us."