Three Universities Strive to Recruit Underrepresented Groups at all Levels of Academia

In a few decades, according to the Pew Research Center, there will no longer be a single racial or ethnic majority in the U.S. Therefore, many colleges and universities are devoting considerable resources to the recruitment of groups that are historically underrepresented in academia and industry. 

The following universities have established programs aimed at recruiting diverse students and faculty and are finding corporate and government partners that see the value diversity brings to higher education and the workplace.   

[Above: 2018 MAPS participants with KSU President Richard Meyers]

Kansas State University

Kansas State University (KSU) in Manhattan has developed a comprehensive program called Project IMPACT aimed at recruiting multicultural students and supporting them throughout their undergraduate careers. 

The project includes two free summer programs — funded by local corporations — that support high-achieving, racially diverse incoming freshmen interested in majoring in agriculture, business, or engineering. One of the initiatives, Multicultural Academic Program Success (MAPS), aims to ease students’ transition to college life and acclimate them to KSU’s campus through a six-week summer experience. Now in its 12th year, the program accepts 10 students annually from each of the three disciplines.

During MAPS, students take kinesiology, college algebra or chemistry, and a class called Roadmaps that gives them tips for succeeding at KSU — all for college credit.  

Brandon Clark
Brandon Clark

On Fridays, students participate in industry tours, during which they visit the plants of the program’s corporate sponsors — including Cargill Corporation, Phillips 66, Union Pacific, and Hormel Foods — and are able to network with executives. Brandon Clark, program coordinator for MAPS, says these experiences give students an opportunity “to hear and learn firsthand from executives who their company is, what their company does, [and] why their company values diversity” as well as learn about potential internship and career opportunities.

Throughout the program, MAPS participants also work collaboratively to design presentations on broad topics such as biofuels and sustainability, which they deliver to a group of KSU faculty at the end of the six weeks. 

Offering support on another level, peer mentors live in residence halls with MAPS students for the duration of the program and assist them with transportation, homework, and navigating college life at KSU. Clark says this aspect of MAPS is designed to help improve retention rates. “Our students are getting all of this firsthand information that most freshmen do not get,” he says. “We’re hoping that with our students being here six weeks, with the guidance of peer mentors, they will be able to avoid some of the mistakes that for some students end up being damaging beyond repair from an academic standpoint.” 

The second component of Project IMPACT is a three-day extended orientation program called Kompass. Less intensive than MAPS, it is designed to build community and general study skills for incoming KSU freshmen from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups who also plan to study agriculture, business, or engineering. During Kompass, which is held in early August, 50 students engage in team-building activities, workshops, and professional etiquette classes on KSU’s campus. 

MAPS students eat lunch with Mary Jo Myers, wife of KSU President Richard Meyers, at the couple’s home.
MAPS students eat lunch with Mary Jo Myers, wife of KSU President Richard Meyers, at the couple’s home.

Both MAPS and Kompass students participate in Guaranteed 4.0, a training program that equips them with the soft skills necessary to succeed in college: how to take notes, study, and create manageable class schedules, among other skills. Donna O’Johnson, a member of the National Advisory Board for the National Society of Black Engineers, leads the workshop. 

Once students complete either program, they are eligible for a scholarship. MAPS participants receive an annual renewable amount of $2,000, while those in Kompass receive $1,000 for their freshman year — funds they are able to apply toward tuition, books, and fees. Moving into the academic year, these students are referred to as IMPACT Scholars. 

Adrian Rodriguez
Adrian Rodriguez

“The idea [behind Project IMPACT] is to target areas where the university felt it could bring students who were high performers, but who just needed an extra incentive in the form of a scholarship opportunity,” says Adrian Rodriguez, associate vice president for student life at KSU. 

West Virginia University

West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown focuses its recruitment efforts on providing both financial and social support to incoming students from diverse groups. Through its Chancellor’s Scholars Program (CSP), WVU offers doctoral students from underrepresented backgrounds financial assistance and networking opportunities in addition to fostering a strong sense of community among them. 

By improving access to advanced education, CSP ultimately seeks to diversify faculties at colleges across the state in order to ensure a statewide educator workforce that brings a broad range of experiences and perspectives — a goal in line with its mission as a land-grant university. Each year, WVU accepts up to 20 students for CSP. There are currently 19 scholars enrolled. 

Lorena Ballester, a Chancellor’s Scholar and a mother of three in her fourth year of studying higher education administration at WVU, hopes when she becomes a professor to contribute to the scholarly discussion regarding the issues international students face at American institutions. Jason Ottley, PhD, entered CSP in fall 2013 and recently earned his degree in higher education with an emphasis in leadership and policy. He says he looks forward to sharing with students his lived experiences as an African American man. 

Lorena Ballester, Amena Anderson, and Shanequa Smith share their insights and experiences as doctoral students at WVU at CSP’s Colloquium for Aspiring Underrepresented Doctoral Candidates.
Lorena Ballester, Amena Anderson, and Shanequa Smith share their insights and experiences as doctoral students
at WVU at CSP’s Colloquium for Aspiring Underrepresented Doctoral Candidates.

Applicants to CSP identify their financial needs, and WVU partners with the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission — an organization that develops and oversees higher education public policy in the state — to help meet those needs. Some scholars only require assistance to cover the cost of books, whereas others may need help financing their entire education. 

“We’re very intentional about making sure that when we do select someone, we can afford to push them all the way through,” says Meshea Poore, JD, vice president of CSP and vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at WVU.  

Lorena Ballester
Lorena Ballester

Ballester says that the financial component of the program has been crucial to helping her achieve her career goals. “I have three kids, so having the financial support helps me afford … school,” she says. “Instead of being in the workforce, I can further my studies to land my dream job in academia.” 

Chancellor’s Scholars also benefit from networking events throughout the year and the sense of community they build with other members of their cohort. Ottley — who has mostly attended predominantly white institutions — says he appreciated the close-knit relationships he formed with other underrepresented students in CSP.

Jason Ottley
Jason Ottley

By assisting the university with undergraduate recruiting events, the scholars also help inspire other young people of color to pursue opportunities at WVU. “It is great for [these undergraduates] to see that there are minority students who are getting master’s degrees and PhDs,” says Ottley. 

This aspect of CSP is becoming increasingly important as Poore seeks to recruit more people into the program from WVU’s undergraduate population. Her plans toward this end include offering help with GRE preparation and facilitating opportunities for these students to network with graduate school deans and professors.  “We’re beginning to look within our own ranks, [thinking about] how we can court students who are maybe not even thinking about graduate school yet,” Poore says. 

North Carolina State University

NC State faculty lead a workshop for graduate students to help them prepare for faculty careers.
NC State faculty lead a workshop for graduate students to help them prepare for faculty careers.

With a focus on building a more diverse faculty, North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh developed the Recruiting Diverse Faculty Program (RDF). Born out of a 2015 National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE grant aimed at recruiting more women to science and engineering, RDF has since expanded to target all groups underrepresented in academia by ensuring proper training for all NC State deans and department heads.

RDF faculty who had been involved with the NSF version of RDF began giving presentations to departments about developing search committees that value diversity, which led to the current iteration of the program. 

A major component of RDF is workshops held every August for deans and department heads. These include panel discussions led by divisions that have successfully implemented policies and procedures aimed at recruiting more diverse faculty. They share best practices for how to create search committees dedicated to hiring underrepresented candidates as well as how to write inclusive job descriptions. Over the past several years, approximately 20 department heads and five deans have volunteered to participate each year, says Marcia Gumpertz, PhD, professor of statistics and former assistant vice provost for faculty diversity. 

In addition to the summer workshops, a group of NC State faculty and administrators trained as RDF facilitators meet with committees twice during search processes to discuss how to attract candidates from a wide range of backgrounds. The RDF team gives presentations on why hiring diverse faculty is important, suggests strategies for marketing open positions to garner a wider pool of applicants, and engages committee members in a discussion around the impact of unconscious bias on decision-making. 

Marcia Gumpertz
Marcia Gumpertz

“We talk to them about how [faculty] diversity affects the things that they’re trying to accomplish in their department and what kinds of benefits it would bring,  [as well as] our university strategic plan and the elements that have to do with diversity,” says Gumpertz. For example, as a land-grant institution, NC State strives to serve the diverse population of North Carolina; thus, Gumpertz says, it is essential that both faculty and students are able to communicate with and relate to these groups.

Many departments involved with RDF have succeeded in increasing the number of faculty from underrepresented groups. Specifically, of the 68 individuals hired between the academic years 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 by participating departments, 46 percent are women and 18 percent are from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, including eight African Americans, 10 Asians, and four Hispanics. These figures mark an improvement in diverse faculty hiring since RDF’s implementation. 

“For people who haven’t been thinking about faculty diversity, RDF brings it to their awareness,” says Gumpertz. “And for people who have been thinking about it, RDF encourages them that this is something the university cares about.”

Ginger O’Donnell is a staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. Kansas State University is a 2014-2017 HEED Award recipient. West Virginia University is a 2016-2017 HEED Award recipient. North Carolina State University is a 2014 and 2017 HEED Award recipient.