UW–Madison welcomes GEM fellows to campus
by Jillian Slaight
The GEM consortium is a national network of universities and employers committed to achieving greater diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields by advancing the careers of talented graduate students from underrepresented groups. UW–Madison is part of a cohort of competitive research institutions – including Stanford, MIT, and University of Michigan – that have helped fund over 3,000 students toward their master’s and doctoral degrees since the consortium first launched in 1976. This impact led to GEM being included as a resource highlighted in the recent American Society for Engineering Education diversity pledge signed by Dean Ian Robertson. Industry giants such as Intel, Adobe, and 3M act as partners in this endeavor, co-sponsoring students with both funding and work experience. Today, UW–Madison boasts five GEM fellows, all graduate students in engineering and biosciences.
The presence of these GEM fellows on campus is due in part to Assistant Dean LaRuth McAfee. As someone with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering (MIT ’05), Dr. McAfee was no stranger to the National GEM Consortium when she joined the Graduate School’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Funding in 2014. Colleagues, friends, and both of her brothers are among the community of GEM alumni. McAfee quickly renewed the university’s membership after receiving a request from the chemical engineering program on campus. The program was trying to recruit a GEM fellow and renewing the membership would enable current and future GEM fellows to choose UW–Madison for their graduate education. This process entailed getting support from the provost, followed by meetings with directors of graduate study and diversity leaders across campus. In August 2015, McAfee also hosted Dr. Marcus Huggans, Senior Director of External Relations for the National GEM Consortium, to help promote opportunities provided through GEM by raising awareness that it exists and informing people how it will benefit campus.
Each year, approximately 1,400 prospective graduate students apply for GEM Fellowships and around 100 are selected. Representatives of the GEM University and Employer Partners convene to evaluate GEM Fellowship applications. The top-rated applicants are then relayed to member employers, who identify students they wish to sponsor. For students to accept GEM Fellowship offers, they must both be selected by a GEM Employer Partner and enroll in an approved academic degree program at a GEM University member institution. With so few students receiving GEM Fellowship offers, many universities will provide fellowships to GEM applicants on their own, allowing those students to still have access to the GEM network and student resources.
All GEM fellows sponsored by employer partners receive financial support from and at least one internship with their employer. Employers include corporations, non-profits, government agencies, as well as National Laboratories, including Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Los Alamos. This connection through the National GEM Consortium between employers and universities in some cases allows students to see how research related to their graduate degree is applied in academic and non-academic settings, and to forge valuable relationships with top researchers in their field across various employment sectors.
The National GEM Consortium serves both students and member universities. Membership in the consortium provides UW–Madison access to the GEM database of fellowship applicants, including many components of a standard graduate application. That information empowers graduate programs to identify and recruit highly qualified students from underrepresented groups. With this tool, McAfee notes, “We can be proactive in reaching out to students.” This benefit of GEM membership is especially important as we work to attract students who had not initially planned to apply to UW–Madison.
The National GEM Consortium also hosts a series of events called Getting Ready for Advanced Degrees (GRAD) Labs. These events are aimed at prospective graduate students and provide them with tips for preparing for the graduate applications and selection process. In addition to promoting UW–Madison summer and graduate program opportunities to students from other institutions, GRAD Labs present an opportunity to help excite and prepare current UW–Madison undergraduate students for graduate school. UW–Madison has co-sponsored GRAD Labs in Chicago in 2015 and 2016, and hopes to host a GRAD Lab on our campus in the near future.
In the long term, GEM membership stands to reshape long-held graduate admissions and recruitment practices. A more proactive approach to recruitment solidifies UW–Madison’s commitment to diversity and enhances its reputation among peer institutions. When employers recognize a similar stake in proactive recruitment, they not only identify top talent, but also gain an edge over competitors by recruiting students after graduation.
Assistant Dean McAfee looks forward to the day when UW–Madison hosts around ten new GEM fellows each year. For now, she eagerly awaits watching UW–Madison’s current cohort of GEM fellows graduate and begin successful STEM careers.