Since Julie Swann became ISE’s newest department head, she has worked to increase outreach to potential students and engagement with alumni. For student outreach, the Department held two events targeted at attracting underrepresented minority and female graduate students. For alumni engagement, Swann created the ISE Mentoring Program that allows alumni and students to connect.
In recent years, the number of U.S. students applying to graduate school — especially in STEM fields — has been declining. So, Swann enlisted the help of Kanton Reynolds, ISE director of undergraduate programs, and Maria Mayorga, ISE professor, to put together special events that attracted students from not only ISE but also other disciplines as well. They focused on students who had not made their decision to attend graduate school yet as well as women and underrepresented minorities (URM). “These students get strong competing offers from other schools, or many get very good job offers right out of undergrad,” explained Mayorga. “That is why we focus on students not only in their senior year but as early as sophomore. We want them to consider graduate school as an option, and specifically to consider our department.”
Another reason, beyond increasing the pool of applicants, is the benefits associated with diversity. This includes diversity of thought — people with different life experiences approach problems in different ways — and to reduce the sense of isolation. “Imagine being ‘the only’ in a certain group,” said Mayorga. “This can create a sense that you ‘don’t belong’ and reduce the success and satisfaction that students in URM groups have with our program.”
WOMEN RECRUITMENT EVENT
In October, the ISE Department, along with 10 other engineering departments, hosted a coordinated visit of female students. They came from several universities in the Southeast and beyond for a one-and-a-half day series of seminars, faculty interviews, and lab tours.
It was an opportunity for the students to meet with current NC State graduate students, talk with engineering faculty members and alumni, ask questions about graduate school, and experience NC State’s campus and see firsthand everything that the University has to offer.
“We have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the students,” shared Mayorga. “They especially enjoyed meeting with faculty and alumni.” In a post-event survey, the students shared that the visit increased their perception of the ISE program and that they are more likely to apply as a result. “I would call that a success,” Mayorga said.
GRADUATE SCHOOL VISITATION DAY
Two weeks later, the ISE Department continued to reach out and recruit underrepresented groups of potential students by hosting their second event, the Eastman Chemical Company Graduate School Visitation Day. ISE hosted students who came from as far away as Washington State and Puerto Rico to attend the one-and-a-half day series of facility tours, seminars, and faculty interviews.
Like the Women Recruitment Event, it was a chance for students to meet and talk with current students and faculty members as well as tour NC State’s campus. All the University had to offer surprised the students. Many of them had heard of NC State and were considering other “higher profile” options. Yet, they realized that the University was competitive with most of the top schools in every aspect of the student experience. “We also have the advantage of good weather, great location, and being near to both the beach and the mountains,” explained Reynolds.
The results from the events have been remarkable. The Ph.D. program has received double the applications from U.S. students as well as underrepresented students. ISE has seen a “ripple” effect from the events. “Some students applied that did not come to the visit but heard about it from their friends,” said Mayorga.
In Julie Swann’s first year, she started the Alumni Mentor Lunch Program, where alumni take a small group of students out for lunch to talk about whatever is on the students’ minds. In her second year, Swann has added other opportunities for alumni mentoring like resume reviews, mock job interviews, and career advice.
The goal was to enhance the personal and professional development of the students by building long-lasting relationships with alumni and friends. At the same time, the alumni mentors would build long-lasting relationships with our students, create an employee pipeline for their businesses, and increase their connectivity with the Department.
“I felt like the ISE mentoring and networking program could address two needs, it could help with our students’ professional development, while providing a channel for alumni to connect with students and the University,” said Swann. “It has done exactly that. Alumni have been able to provide career advice, help with resumes, thoughts on how to prepare for a job interview, and more.”
Travis Worth (BSIE ‘08, MIE ‘10) took part in the Mentor Lunch Program by taking some graduate students to Mitch’s Tavern, a restaurant near campus that is an NC State landmark. “It was fun to have lunch with them and ask questions about their past experiences and what they aspire to in the future,” shared Worth. “It was very interesting to hear about the prior work experiences in their home countries and how they ended up at NC State.”
He shared his experiences of getting a master’s degree, finding a job, and all the changes he has had in his short work career so far. “I owe all my career success to the fantastic degrees I received from the ISE program,” said Worth. “They may be short touch points with the students, but you never know the impact one conversation can have on people’s lives.”
Since November, Patrick Murray (BSIE ‘88) has mentored students by setting up resume review sessions and mock job interviews in Daniels Hall with many ISE students. He also took students to lunch and even served as a judge at the Fall 2018 Engineering Design Day. “Each of those has been interesting and rewarding,” said Murray. “Plus I am learning new things from them.”
What surprised Murray the most was the diversity he saw in the ISE students. But, it was not the cultural diversity, as he expected that. “I am talking about the diversity of what interests them across the scope of ISE/OR, the diversity in skills being acquired, and the areas of research they are exploring,” confided Murray. “That was unexpected and wonderful to realize.”
Zohreh Asgharzadeh Talebi (Ph.D. OR ‘10) helped students by reviewing resumes and answering job interview questions. “Most students that I met were seeking advice on job hunting and interviews,” said Asgharzadeh Talebi. “They all had impressive resumes. I liked the setup of meeting individually, so we could have a more focused conversation with each one of them.”
Jeff Johnson (BSIE ‘78) mentored students by reviewing resumes, practicing job interviews, and having lunch. “For mock interviewing, the students are very interested in how they are perceived and how they answer questions,” said Johnson. “This ‘dry run’ of interviewing helps them get rid of some nervousness and allows them some feedback from someone who has hired people over the years. He enjoyed having lunch with a small group of students and hearing about their plans and thoughts after school. “Much has changed since I was in school and much has not changed,” remarked Johnson. “I would recommend other ISE alumni to spare a few hours with the students who want to take advantage of your ISE and work experience.”
Wendy Laing (BSIE ‘90, MIE ‘12) and Evelyn Brown (MSOR ‘92) teamed up to take students to lunch. “The students seemed to appreciate the ISE mentoring program, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about their varying career interests,” said Laing. “I have connected with a couple of the students on LinkedIn.”
They also reviewed resumes and answering interview questions. “As a former professor and a person whose current job relates to NC manufacturing, I think I have some insights to share with current students,” said Brown. “The students seemed appreciative of having the opportunity to connect to alumni. I will continue to sign up for these types of events going forward.”
As the mentoring program looks to continue expanding, ISE hopes that alumni can help identify opportunities for students to work with local companies on senior design projects, promote recruitment of ISE students for jobs, work with the Department on what soft skills graduates need, and take part in other activities at NC State. “Please let us know if you have other ideas,” asked Swann.
The results of the program have exceeded expectations as both students and alumni alike have been enthusiastic. In fact, many alumni have chosen to come back as repeat customers. “I know our students are also benefiting,” shared Swann. “We have done surveys that clearly show this.”
Swann is grateful for the alumni and department friends who have signed up and participated in this program, particularly as ISE worked through how to scale up operations to meet the large demand. “The giving of your time has shown the students that there are many ways to be engaged with the University, and giving back is not just about financial resources,” said Swann.