This weekend, I attended the 18th annual Compact for Faculty Diversity – Institute on Teaching and Mentoring held in Atlanta Georgia. The institute is a four-day conference that has become the largest gathering of minority doctoral scholars in the country. The aim of the Institute is to provide scholars with the skills necessary to succeed in graduate study and to prepare them for success as faculty members. Select faculty mentors and graduate school administrators also attend and get an opportunity to share best practices in mentoring, teaching, recruitment, and retention.
During a session on recruitment and retention of students of color, I learned that many faculty and administrators continue to struggle with recruiting qualified under-represented students to enroll in their programs. This was especially true for those in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) departments.
With this challenge in mind, I offered a number of suggestions during this session on novel ways in which web 2.0 tools can be used to enhance outreach to under-represented student populations. One tactic in particular received a number of positive comments. It was the use of Skype in recruitment activities.
I have used Skype (a software application that allows users to make voice and video calls and chat over the Internet) to host guest speakers in my program. I primarily used the video call option on Skype when conducting seminars with invited speakers and advising students when they cannot meet face-to-face with me. Some of my guests on Skype have been graduate admission counselors, department chairs, and professors. I found that it broadens the range of contacts with graduate programs that I offer my students. For instance, graduate school admissions counselors, graduate and postdoctoral students, and professors at three institutions in three states presented information seminars using Skype over a one week period to over fifty undergraduate students. It would have been cost prohibitive to reproduce this level of face-to-face contact for all fifty students at each of the institutions.
Thus, one advantage of using Skype to provide undergraduate and graduate program information to students is that it cuts down on program travel cost. In other words, it can cost thousands of dollars for a student to visit a graduate program a thousand miles away or for a college but substantially less cost to host a graduate admissions counselor on Skype. Furthermore, using Skype can provide students with targeted information about an undergraduate or graduate program as well as their admission requirements. Select faculty could be targeted to highlight the institution, department, and his/her research using Skype. A better understanding of the faculty can help clarify students’ graduate school selection since the research mentor/student fit has been shown to predict graduate school persistence.
Students enrolled at the recruiting institution can highlight the institution’s culture, norms, programs, dorm life in addition to a number of other factors prospective students want to learn about. Student to student contact is one of the best methods for recruiting. Students want to know if there is a culture at the university that would support them. Hearing this information from a student enrolled at that university is priceless.
Most importantly however, graduate schools and programs also could use Skype in a targeted way to increase their outreach to under-represented groups. Undergraduate institutions could identify primarily minority high schools for their recruitment. College or university admission personnel could coordinate with the high school guidance counselors to schedule the session using Skype and high school guidance counselors could recruit interested students. Alternatively, graduate school recruiters can contact institutions and programs serving under-represented students such as Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, the Louise Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Programs (LSAMP), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Hispanic-serving institutions and Tribal colleges) in order to conduct information sessions via Skype. Graduate school recruiters can work with department heads in the STEM fields to promote their programs among these groups by developing collaborative partnerships to host information sessions. For example, a university can have an institutional, regional, or national informational session using Skype and send invitations to colleges to tune in. This model has been used by President Obama and a host of other politicians and organizations to successfully host debates, meetings, and seminars.
Skype is not a new tool used by colleges and universities to conduct business. It is already being used in academe to connect students with employers. For example, the Freeman’s Career Management Center at Tulane University has effectively used Skype to allow Fortune 500 companies to deliver one-hour information sessions to its students. This year, Dartmouth College hosted a virtual career fair that included 32 employers using Skype to connect to students. Moreover, The National Association of Colleges and Employers suggests on their website that the use of Skype in connecting businesses with students will increase in the future.
Furthermore, Skype is already being used in education to host seminars. ‘Skype in the classroom’ is a free community to help teachers use the software to help students learn. The “Skype in the classroom’ community forum page is filled with hundreds of postings of individuals seeking speaking engagements, classrooms looking to collaborate with other classrooms, book club invitations and so much more. What is missing on ‘Skype in the classroom’ is a critical mass of colleges and universities seeking recruiting engagements to high school or college students.
Some college undergraduate admission offices are using Skype effectively, in that, prospective undergraduate students are provided the opportunity to interview using the software. For instance, Wake Forest provides prospective students with two options to interview – face-to-face or using Skype. The Skype option provides flexibility to students and assumes a level of empathy by the institution to financial and contextual challenges that under-represented students face in opting for a face-to-face interview. Colleges and universities are even using it to interview prospective faculty. In recognition of this trend, a recent article by Stephens Winzenberg in the March 2nd 2011 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted best practices for prospective faculty interviewing using Skype.
Skype is not a new phenomenon on college campuses. However, its use as a tool in recruiting undergraduate and graduate students and specifically under-represented students can be enhanced. Targeting undergraduate programs and high schools that provide services to under-represented students are ripe for outreach by institutions seeking to expand the pool of prospective students from diverse background. Using Skype would go a long way in increasing contact between students and graduate programs, increase the amount of information prospective student receive from institutional representatives, enrolled students, and/or faculty members and at the same time decrease institutional recruitment cost.