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Program gives minority students day on the job

STANFORD -- Although women and minorities have made significant inroads in law and medicine over the last 20 years, many other career fields have hardly changed at all.

For example, a recent survey by the National Science Foundation found that just 3.1 percent of employed Ph.D. engineers are female, 1.7 percent are Hispanic and 0.8 percent are black. Other technical fields, such as computer science and mathematics, have similar low percentages - despite efforts by employers to attract minority and women graduates.

"Employers are often at a loss to understand why these students do not pursue career opportunities with their organizations," said Al Levin, who works with recruiters and students as assistant director for career resources at Stanford's Career Planning and Placement Center.

"Letters are sent, ads are placed in campus newspapers and presentations are made, yet the numbers of applicants are small."

The answer may be that the sought-after students almost literally can't see themselves in such fields, Levin said.

"Many ethnic minority and women students fail to consider certain career paths largely because of a lack of role models," he said.

Stanford has worked with employers to address this problem for years, through mentoring programs for female engineering students, minority internship programs and pre-professional student organizations.

The latest effort is a new day-on-the-job program, organized by the career center, called the "Career Shadow Program: Diversity of Opportunities."

Funded by a $15,000 grant from the Bankers Trust Company, the program allows students to spend a day with a professional whose gender, skin color or disability makes him or her unusual in the field - black women in investment banking, Hispanics in academia, disabled individuals in corporate law.

"The numbers of minorities, women and disabled in certain career fields will remain low unless students are given an opportunity to connect with professionals who can share their insights with them."

Stanford recruits professionals through advertising and mailings in alumni magazines and professional journals. These sponsors are then entered into a computer database that students may examine.

Students who decide to participate must attend an orientation workshop; they are then responsible for contacting the professional and setting up their day-long agenda.

"Students typically attend meetings with the professional, talk to other people at the organization and observe the range of things that people could do on the job," Levin said.

"By participating in this program, students gain an opportunity to learn firsthand about a given occupation, and a better understanding of a minority experience in a career field. They also have an opportunity to develop a mentor relationship with a professional and a chance to evaluate perceived assumptions about specific career fields."

The career shadow program was created by Levin and Laura Y. Dominguez, community outreach coordinator at the Career Planning and Placement Center. It was one of three collegiate programs chosen nationally this year as a winner of the third annual Bankers Trust Undergraduate Career Development Award.



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