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Calling for More Diversity

Students’ work to create a diverse campus pays off with an increase in Hispanic enrollment and a stronger sense of pride and community.

It is common practice at many institutions for current students to phone prospective students who have been accepted but are not yet attending that school. During these calls, students engage in meaningful conversations about the college, academic programs, social environments, living arrangements and campus culture, alleviating fears and sharing their love for the college. The hope with these calls is that they will be the last push accepted students need in their decision to attend a specific college or university, as opposed to another institution. It can be particularly challenging when trying to encourage students of color to attend a college that may have less diversity than they are used to in a high school setting and/or are expecting in their college choice.

Last year, in an effort to encourage more students of color to attend Wentworth Institute of Technology and to quell some specific concerns of this student population, the admissions office at Wentworth presented an opportunity to one of the cultural clubs on campus to assist in its recruitment efforts — calling prospective students that belong to their affinity group. The Wentworth chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) answered the charge and began calling Hispanic and students who had been accepted.

Needs and concerns are different for each person, but it often helps the accepted student to talk to someone with a similar background. Students who can empathize and offer strategies for support are a welcome voice for a student determining which school to attend. When a student is thinking ‘there didn’t seem to be a lot of people who looked like me on the tour,’ it can be difficult for them to want to choose that school. Knowing that there is someone on campus who cares about their success can certainly be important.

Wanting to share their experiences, the members of the organization enthusiastically volunteered to call accepted Hispanic students and engage in honest conversations. Many current students felt honored that they could be part of the recruiting process and were excited about the number of Hispanic students who had been accepted. The group divided up the list of accepted students and phoned those who lived nearest to their hometowns. During these calls, a student might extol the virtues of our co-op program and then talk about the difficulty he or she sometimes may face being the only Hispanic in a class, as well as coping strategies and campus resources. They wanted to share what it was like to be at Wentworth and wanted to encourage other Hispanic students to become a part of the Wentworth community and allay any concerns about attending Wentworth.

Many incoming Hispanic students know there are not a lot of people who share their identity on campus and this creates a bevy of concerns when determining if Wentworth is the right school for them. The opportunity to talk to current Hispanic students aids the prospective students in the decision-making process. In addition, it encourages the growth of our Hispanic student population so that, ideally, being part of a small and growing group of students will not be a concern for future students.

This recruitment initiative has also created a stronger relationship between our admissions office and the SHPE. The students in the group have now identified a new ally on campus. Following the phone call program, members of the organization reached out to admissions and asked if they would send out a letter from the SHPE to incoming Hispanic students, welcoming their newest classmates to campus and letting them know that the group was there to support them. The letter, which was mailed the summer before students started classes, included photos of past events, showing images of career opportunities, social programs and club activities.

The letters and photos worked on two levels: they offered support to incoming students and let them know this was a warm and inviting campus, and they helped the organization increase visibility among students. This has resulted in a strong increase in the group’s membership, and positive relationships have been formed among new and existing students. The 19 percent increase in the Hispanic student population this year — about 3.6 percent of the nearly 3,500-student body — could be credited in part to the proactive telephone outreach; however, it cannot be proven that this program is the only cause of the increase in the number of Hispanic students attending Wentworth. What is not in question is that students feel a stronger sense of pride and community because of the program.

Building on the program’s success, it is being expanded to Wentworth’s student chapters of the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers. (Blacks make up 3.5 percent of the student body.) Students will join in the recruiting efforts, to empower both current and prospective students and further create a stronger sense of pride and community.

— Carissa Durfee advises the Wentworth Institute of Technology’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and is the Intercultural Center coordinator and associate director of Student Leadership Programs at Wentworth. Vanessa Foote is Wentworth’s assistant director of admissions.

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