They like what they see
Steve Burkett doesn’t want to hear any more stories about how hard it is to recruit minority students to do graduate work at WSU. He has evidence that it can be done.
In the past, the Graduate School has encouraged recruitment of McNair Scholars but left the process up to individual departments. In January, Burkett worked closely with directors of graduate admissions throughout the university to plan a three-day visit for 21 McNair Scholars from across the country.
A dozen McNair Scholars who participated accepted offers to pursue graduate education at WSU this fall, and three more plan to enroll next year.
“We consider that a resounding success,” said Burkett, director of WSU’s McNair Achievement Program and associate dean in the Graduate School.
As it turned out, bringing them en masse was a bonus.
“I thought it would be important, but I didn’t know it would be that important,” Burkett said. “This group bonded like no other I’ve ever seen.”
“It made a big difference for me,” said Vanessa Martinez, 27, who plans to study counseling psychology. “I felt like I got to know a group of people that would be (here) with me.”
Martinez, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Irvine, and a master’s from University of Wisconsin, Madison, said she applied to WSU based on recommendations from two WSU alumni she worked with at UCI. But, she said, she was also interested in Columbia University. The camaraderie she experienced during her WSU campus visit helped her decide, she said.
Erika Abad, a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, first found out about WSU by corresponding with professor Carmen Lugo-Lugo, of WSU’s comparative ethnic studies department, on a list serve focusing on Puerto Rican studies. Lugo-Lugo referred her to professor Victor Villanueva of WSU’s English department. After corresponding with him and reading his “Bootstraps: An American Academic of Color,” Abad started thinking WSU might be a good match for her interests.
Her visit confirmed that, she said, because of the opportunity to meet with faculty, administrators and other students of color. “We already have a network of friends and resources on campus,” she said.
Tom Rotolo, co-director of graduate studies for the sociology department, said his department enrolled 14 new graduate students this fall; two of them are McNair Scholars and a third will enroll next year.
“We have a really strong cohort coming in this year and I attribute a lot of that to the visits,” he said.
Coming to Pullman is a leap of faith unlike choosing to attend school in a well-known city, Rotolo said, so a visit is even more important. After students visit, he said, they generally like what they see.
“Up until this year,” he said, “everyone who visited campus decided to come to WSU.” This year, he said, only one student who visited declined an offer of admission, and weather-related travel delays shortened that person’s visit to less than 24 hours.
This fall an anticipated 600 new graduate students enrolled at WSU, and while the McNair scholars make up only a fraction of that number, their presence on campus is a significant step toward creating a more diverse campus community.
Burkett said, “To anyone who says you can’t recruit minority students, this is a perfect example that you can. You just have to put some effort into it.”
The McNair Achievement Program, named for Challenger astronaut Ronald E. McNair, seeks to identify high-achieving sophomores who are first-generation college students from low-income families, or from an underrepresented minority group, and prepare them for admission to graduate school. .
The other thrust of the program is recruiting McNair Scholars into graduate programs. “The beauty of this program is that these students are groomed for success in graduate school with specific training in how to manage academic challenges, conduct research and navigate the rigors of graduate school,” said Burkett. “They are not your average applicant.”
According to Burkett, 21 students accepted the offer to visit WSU, all but one were admitted to a graduate program and 17 received offers of financial assistance. Of these, 15 will be here this fall or next year. Some of these will receive McNair Graduate Scholar Awards through the Graduate School. These offers of financial support are for the first year of study, but individual departments that use these positions must guarantee that the student will received continued funding from the department in subsequent years.