Graduate School Bonanza 2016: Report on an SEC Pilot Project
After two years of decreasing participation from students and graduate schools at our annual Grad School Fair, this autumn, based on extensive campus input, the Student Engagement Center created a new process for providing students with information about and contacts at various graduate and professional schools through an initiative called the Graduate School Bonanza.
In Fall 2014 we saw a significant drop in attendance from a high of 200 students in Fall 2013 to 85; in Fall 2015 attendance declined even more, with just 70 students attending. This pattern concerned us and caused us to wonder: what was causing this drop in interest?
Last Spring, after surveying students, we convened a student focus group. The ideas that emerged became the basis for a redesign of graduate school-related work in the SEC, including:
1. Have multiple events targeted to specific career fields.
2. Decrease the single “large room” event to something smaller and more intimate.
3. Market each event to students interested in those graduate programs.
4. Have smaller panels of alumni talk with students about their graduate school experience.
5. Utilize more virtual (i.e. videoconference or Skype) sessions.
6. Choose a variety of times to create access for different student schedules.
We worked with Institutional Research and Advancement Services to learn when Whitman students attended graduate school and where they went. We targeted the timeframe from 2009-15 and learned that approximately 20% of Whitties attend graduate school upon leaving Whitman and that about 60% attend within five years. Also with help from Institutional Research, we created a list of schools and programs that Whitman graduates were attending consistently. We added all of those schools to our list of institutions to invite for either an in-person tabling event or a virtual session. We also reached out twice to the entire faculty for input, once in April after the student focus group and again over the summer.
Based on the information we collected, we decided to transform the Graduate School Fair, previously a one-day, three-hour event, into the 2016 Graduate School Bonanza, which was a seven-part series throughout October. The seven days featured the top four professional fields chosen by Whitman graduates (Education, Business, Law, and Health Sciences) and Whitman’s three academic divisions (Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities, and Natural Sciences & Mathematics). The Grad School Bonanza included virtual sessions and in-person tabling by specific schools as well as virtual alumni panels. We moved to a 4:00-7:00 schedule for this series, a time slot when most students do not have class, and spread the series across three weeks in an effort to avoid over-programming one week.
“I have never seen the students be more engaged with the representative colleges as I have tonight.”
~Barbara Hoffman, Asst. Director of Off-Campus Studies, Education Virtual Session Facilitator
Over 90 students attended the Grad School Bonanza, which featured representatives from 20 schools and seven alumni on virtual panels. We developed an extensive, targeted marketing campaign, for which we emailed students based on their career interests and academic divisions.
“I think that students benefited from seeing folks like themselves succeeding in life after Whitman. In addition, faculty and staff advisers have been away from grad school awhile. They can speak knowledgeably about the experience in broad strokes, but talking to alums that are currently in grad school or recently out of grad school gives a level of detail that folks here can’t really provide.”
~Professor Albert Schueller, Natural Sciences & Mathematics Panel Facilitator
After the Bonanza, we solicited feedback. Many respondents reacted positively to the variety of ways that schools shared information. Several people specifically noted the benefit of being able to have extensive conversations with representatives because of the event’s smaller scale.
“We had more in-depth one-on-one conversations with students in this smaller focused forum than we have ever had in the larger multi-school format.”
~Representative from Lewis and Clark University School of Education
In summary, we believe that this autumn’s Graduate School Bonanza accomplished our goal of creatively helping students engage with graduate school programs in a more effective way. We welcome ideas and volunteers as we look ahead to 2017. Please contact Assistant Director of Career Development Gayle Townsend ’80 at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Finally, we want to thank the following individuals for making the Bonanza so successful:
Faculty and Staff
* Professor Albert Schueller, Natural Sciences & Mathematics Panel Facilitator
* Professor Justin Lincoln, Humanities & Arts Panel Facilitator
* Professor Charles Timm-Ballard, Humanities & Arts Panel Facilitator
* Professor Dan Vernon, alumni referrals for panels
* Professor Andrea Dobson, alumni referrals for panels
* Barbara Hoffman, Assistant Director of Off-Campus Studies, Education Programs Facilitator
* Briana Gormly ’13, Rosie Brownlow-Calkin ’09 & Abby Lynch ’07: Humanities & Arts Panel
* Michael Kirk ’06, Thuy Dao ’07 & Kendra Klagg ’13: Natural Sciences & Mathematics Panel
* Hannah Bauer ‘13, Sara Kuethe ‘06: Business School Panel