Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Diversify Education Sciences? Yes, We Can!

In this blog post, Stephen Raudenbush discusses the University of Chicago’s successful efforts to diversify its IES-funded predoctoral training program. This post is the first in a series exploring issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity in the education sciences.

In 2015, the Committee on Education at the University of Chicago launched a national campaign to recruit a talented and diverse group of pre-doctoral fellows. With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, we sought to train a new generation of social scientists from across the disciplines to bring rigorous methods of social science to bear on questions related to the improvement of education.

We’d had previous success in pre-doctoral training with IES support. Our fellows had a great track record conducting research and getting good jobs, but we were deeply unsatisfied that only 3 of 35 of those fellows were members of under-represented minority groups. This didn’t make sense, particularly in Chicago—a city where 90% of the public-school students are African American and Hispanic—and where our aim was to build a strong research-practice partnership.

Our campaign was quite successful. We now have a terrific team of 23 PhD fellows, including 9 who are African American or Hispanic. All are making excellent progress toward degrees in disciplines as varied as Comparative Human Development, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Public Policy, Social Services Administration, and Sociology. We’re writing to share our five key strategies that underscored our approach to improving student diversity in the education sciences.

Create a compelling intellectual argument for choosing education sciences. We invited prospective students to join us in an interdisciplinary research project focused on overcoming educational inequality. We organized the training around one question: “How can we improve the contribution of schooling to skills required for the labor market success of urban youth?” We reasoned that many of the most talented minority and non-minority scholars are deeply committed to answering this broad question, and we reasoned that many would be motivated to come to Chicago to study these questions. A plus for us is the University’s longstanding engagement with public schools in Chicago.

Hire a coordinator dedicated to recruitment. Faculty were totally committed to the recruitment goal, but they were too busy teaching, mentoring, doing research, and serving on departmental committees to oversee a major student recruitment campaign. So we hired a dedicated recruitment director to coordinate with prospective students and faculty and carry out many of the administrative tasks associated with recruitment. The recruitment director assigned every prospective student to a faculty member with kindred interests and followed up to see that faculty colleagues made connected with these students.

Reach out to social networks that include diverse students. Within the university, we worked closely with officers at the University of Chicago who are focused on recruiting diverse students. Our faculty made use of personal connections, and we pooled information about people we know at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority-Serving Institutions, and liberal arts colleges. We made it easy for interested students to express interest and connect with faculty and staff through our website. We also found that organizations such as the American Educational Research Association and the National Equity Project were happy to spread the word about our campaign.

Maximize faculty contact with prospective fellows – well before applications are due. Our faculty were heroes in following up with every promising prospective fellow. We think it’s key to make a phone call before admissions decisions are made and to encourage potentially interested and promising persons to apply. In this way, every person who is admitted will already have a history of communication with a faculty member. Continued communication builds trust and the sense of belonging that encourages young people to join the project. Having a diverse faculty helps; however every faculty member, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, pitched in, and this united effort clearly paid off.

Build a welcoming culture. We encouraged all admitted students to visit before deciding what university to attend. We mobilized University funds to support travel and lodging. We encouraged the prospective fellows to meet each other and to meet our current doctoral students during these visits. The key is to convey to each student a true sense of belonging. We created lots of opportunity for small group discussions and social engagement to foster colleagueship and promote respect for the diversity of perspective. Our fellows run our weekly Education Workshop, which often showcases the work of minority scholars. Making this happen for our first cohort helped recruit our second cohort.

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