Just a year ago, Rhonda Baylor visited HGSE's Diversity Recruitment Program where she met plenty of students and began setting the path to her future at HGSE. Now, Baylor is studying for her master's at the Ed School and is giving back to a new cohort of prospective students at the annual event.
"I can remember sitting in those chairs when I was thinking about applying," says Baylor, who studies the transition of high school students to college. "It motivated me to see students going through the program. I had planned to apply for a while but coming here encouraged me - at that point figured I didn't have anything to lose."
Baylor's story is similar to many students who travel to HGSE each fall for the now annual Diversity Recruitment Program event. Last week 195 prospective students from all over the country turned out for the 20th offering. The day-long event provides an opportunity for prospective students of color to meet faculty, administrators, alumni, and current students, as well as to learn about academic programs, student life, admissions, and financial aid, and even to kick start their application process.
"HGSE is committed to attracting a diverse student body. Since its inception in 1991, we have held highly successful diversity admissions events to recruit talented and passionate students to apply to our degree programs," says Dean Kathleen McCartney, who spoke to students at the start of the event. "This year's event drew double the number of prospective students compared with last year. I enjoyed the many one-on-one conversations I had with prospective students, who will be future leaders in education practice, policy, and research."
Director of Admissions Maria Curcio explains that the Diversity Recruitment Program is a reflection of the need for a diverse group of educators. "We seek to develop leaders who will be able to represent and incorporate multiple perspectives and voices in their work," Curcio says. "We value diversity of all kinds in the classroom and in the field of education, whether it is based on ethnicity and race, geography, prior work experience, professional interests, and more."
Formerly known as the Students of Color Recruitment Program, the program began in 1991 when the HGSE Admissions Office aimed to attract diverse applicants who may not have considered HGSE as a graduate option.
"I think there are a lot of people who don't know about the school or perhaps what it has to offer," says Assistant Director of Admissions Shirley Greene, who oversees the office's diversity recruitment efforts. Part of Greene's job is meeting with prospective students throughout the country and speaking about potential opportunities at HGSE.
Historically, the Diversity Recruitment Program event plays a unique role in attracting students of color to HGSE. "The recruitment program is an affirmation in many ways for prospective students who may not think it's possible," says Greene recounting a recent visit to Spelman College and Morehouse College where even top students did not think they could apply to HGSE. "This gets the idea in students' heads that this is possible. This is about exposing prospective students to the Harvard community, providing a real opportunity to see the school, but also addressing misperceptions about being here at Harvard," Greene says.
The one-day event exposes prospective students to many aspects of the Ed School beyond academics, from student life to writing a statement of purpose.
Doctoral candidate Adrienne Keene came to the Diversity Recruitment Program last year to work on her statement of purpose and get a feel for the school. "I felt really encouraged by the fact that HGSE showed a commitment to diversity and they were looking to bring in a group of diverse students," Keene says. "For me, the best part was being able to meet current students and see that they were real people, who were passionate about education, but at the same time could sit and have a casual conversation. [The program] was definitely a positive experience and then I knew I was ready to go to grad school."
Visiting HGSE in advance, particularly through the Diversity Recruitment Program, does make a difference in student enrollments. Although it is difficult to track exactly how many students come to HGSE as a result of the recruitment program, according to Curcio, 55 percent of people who attended the recruitment program last year applied to the school for this academic year. "This does not factor in the many others who may have attended in previous years," she says.
After all, the decision to return to graduate school can take much advance planning and time. For many students of color, attending a school with diversity is an important factor in their decisions. "I felt coming out would be a great way to learn more about my program of interest, visit the campus, learn key insights as to the application process, and most importantly, see for myself to what degree diversity is encouraged at Harvard," says Lynette Tannis, a doctoral candidate.
Many of the students who enroll in HGSE following the Diversity Recruitment Program inevitably find themselves committed to the event the following year seeing as though it was pivotal in fostering their HGSE experience. "Once I came to HGSE, there was a familiar face and someone that I felt comfortable reaching out to," says Keene, whose research focuses on potential barriers and success factors in Native Americans' college application process. "It was the first step in building those relationships that were key in the process and transitioning process. I was so happy to give back this year and help because I appreciated it last year."
Although the Diversity Recruitment Program's mission is to attract students of color to HGSE, Greene emphasizes that ultimately increased diversity and awareness benefit everyone on campus.
The students who attend the Diversity Recruitment Program echo similar sentiments as Greene in striving for a diverse campus. "Our nation's diversity is ever increasing and we must embrace the fact that we learn so very much from individuals who differ from us in some way," Tannis says. "Bringing people together from various backgrounds with a common goal to impact the world through policy, research, and practice is powerful. It will take different perspectives and experiences to help us achieve our mission for all our nation's children to receive high quality instruction each and every day."