Grad Programs Share Best Practices on Holistic Review
A group of faculty, and administrators across the graduate enterprise were treated to presentations sponsored by the Graduate School on departmental holistic review processes. Astronomy's Stuart Vogel and the English Department's Kellie Robertson spoke at length about their experiences implementing holistic review while also working on inclusive retention initiatives. They were followed by Candice Schumann, PhD student in Computer Science, who discussed her fascinating artificial intelligence (AI) project to improve equity and inclusion in admissions review.
Astronomy was the first department at the University of Maryland to implement holistic review at the graduate level starting with Fall 2015--under then-chair Vogel. Even prior to that, there were occasional departmental seminars and colloquia on equity topics. Over the years, the program has supported and advocated for diverse admissions and retention practices both at UMD and beyond. At this week's event, Vogel spoke not only about the his program's journey to holistic review but the importance of changing the culture within a graduate program to match a student's front-end experience. The program has continued to be a leading voice on the campus for holistic review/retention, and has continued to work diligently to improve the way it approaches equity and inclusion. In 2014, Astronomy instituted its extensive Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (EDI) which according to its mission statement "strives to create and uphold a safe, open environment that allows each of its members to grow professionally and contribute to the greater scientific community." During the last academic year, EDI worked to improve parental leave, graduate student orientation, promoted the use of preferred nouns and names, implemented a suggestion mechanism to improve departmental climate, advocated for affordable/quality daycare, focused on mental health, and the list goes on and on. Said Vogel, who also chairs the group, "The work of this group is critically important. We meet bi-weekly during the academic year, and it doesn't seem enough. There is so much to talk about, we could meet daily and not adequately address the issues people bring forward."
Robertson, who is about to finish her role as Director of Graduate Studies in English, also shared some of what her department has accomplished in the last three years-- implemented holistic review and Skype interviews, improved support for all graduate students, and through lots of conversation and listening, redistributed faculty mentoring loads. One of the issues she became keenly aware of is the financial burden graduate study places on underrepresented students. In one anecdote Robertson shared, "I wasn't aware of the some of things our URM students struggle with. One winter, I paid the MTA bus pass for a student who needed to attend language classes during intersession, while the UMD shuttles weren't running. That's the level of need that we might overlook." As she passes the DGS baton, Robertson hopes that English will cultivate strategic URM pipelines, through HBCUs, conferences, faculty-to-faculty relationships, and organizations.
English and Astronomy, with 150-200 applications, have a different scale than Computer Science with 1500-2000 applications in a given cycle. When Jeff Foster, now at Tufts University, started implementing holistic review a few years ago, the sheer number of applications was the biggest challenge--and making sure each file received an equitable look. Candice Schumann, who works with UMD's John Dickerson, is preoccupied with this very issue--trying to use AI to diversify cohort selection, with limited departmental resources. Using a diversity function, and three possible algorithms Schumann hopes "to model better outcomes in choosing students from the mid-section of the applicant pool--identifying students who may get lost in a typical review process."
(Photos: Anna De Cheke Qualls)