7.3 Recruitment

Last updated on 2021/08/08 by Michael Nolan

7.3.1 Recruiting Goals and Strategies

NSF expects ERCs to recruit and retain researchers and participants at levels that exceed national engineering averages for underrepresented groups (across gender, race, ethnicity, and disability status) across all ERC partner institutions. Recruiting at all levels throughout the ERC is a collaborative responsibility inclusive of ERC leadership, faculty, staff, and students. DCI should be considered in all aspects of recruitment (and retention) for the ERC, including the identification and recruitment of students for pre-college programming, undergraduate research experiences, and graduate student study and exchange programs, as well as the recruitment of staff, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty. Priority areas for recruitment and corresponding recruitment strategies will vary from ERC to ERC based on goals and needs. Diversity at all levels of each ERC is benchmarked against both national and all-ERC averages annually. These national averages can help an ERC identify priority areas for recruitment and establish goals for participation. The ERC’s academic and engineering disciplines along with partner institutions’ demographics, communities, and cultures can influence participant diversity and may also influence priority areas and goals.

Each ERC should establish recruitment goals that are both attainable and aspirational within its own particular context, providing an opportunity for achievement and celebration of early and consistent efforts. In goal-setting and strategic planning, ERCs should consider the demographics and diversity in partner institution regions, authentic partnerships with and regional access to minority-serving institutions, and historical trends and sources for recruitment at all levels. Examples include:

  • POETS’ overall diversity goal is to be 10% above the national average on specific, identified primary diversity demographics. This strategically does not include the prioritized recruitment of Native Americans, since partner institutions are not located near high concentrations of Tribal lands.

  • Given the large Hispanic populations in the states represented by NASCENT lead (Texas) and partner institutions (New Mexico, California, Texas), one of NASCENT’s goals is to significantly exceed the national average of Hispanic participants at all levels of the ERC.

7.3.2 Recruitment of Students Pre-College Students

Pre-college students are most frequently engaged with ERCs via Engineering Workforce Development programs, including Young Scholars programs, local school partnerships, camps, and outreach events. DCI Directors can provide input and support to ensure that pre-college program leaders recruit diverse participant cohorts, form and maintain mutually beneficial strategic partnerships with diverse schools and organizations, and lead accessible and inclusive programs.

Schools and school districts, non-profits, science centers, and museums near ERC partner institutions can be important strategic partners for broadening participation. Virtual educational programming can extend recruiting and strategic partnerships to schools and organizations at greater distances. The National Clearinghouse for Educational Statistics (NCES) can be used to identify schools and school districts near ERC partner institutions or in targeted communities with greater racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic diversity. The NCES database also provides a school’s Title 1 status and locale (rural, urban, etc.), two additional factors that contribute to the diversity of student participants. The National Afterschool Association (NAA), NAA State Affiliates, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) can help identify out-of-school time programs and partners.

Examples of how ERCs are recruiting pre-college students and creating strategic partnerships include the following:

  • NASCENT strategically partners with Texas School for the Deaf and Texas School for the Visually Impaired to reach young learners with disabilities for pre-college outreach programs, including after-school STEM clubs.

  • TANMS collaborates with UC San Diego’s Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity (CEED) and leverages its connection to the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program platform and its established long-term relationships with K-12 schools to reach Hispanic and URM students from low-income communities across 21 schools and 9 school districts.

  • ReNUWIt partnered with Stanford’s Office of Science Outreach to recruit into its Young Scholars Program local students who are lower income and first in their family to pursue college.

  • POETS partnered with DREAAM House to recruit for their Young Scholars program. DREAAM House is a non-profit that provides a pre-kindergarten to college pipeline program for boys aimed at cultivating academic excellence and positive citizenship. Because this non-profit is highly involved with the community, POETS is able to gain unique access to participant families for a more holistic education approach. Undergraduate Students

Undergraduate students become affiliated with an ERC primarily through participation in summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Programs and by conducting undergraduate research in ERC labs during the academic year. Recruiting for REU students is often national in scope. Recruiting for non-REU undergraduate research students most often occurs at local ERC partner institutions. Both national and local recruiting strategies may include participation in conference or campus career fairs, leading workshops or information sessions, facilitating faculty presentations, or marketing undergraduate student ERC opportunities to raise awareness and broaden participation. ERCs frequently partner with or participate in events through organizations, institutions, and programs that reach diverse undergraduate student populations, including:

Below are a few examples of undergraduate recruiting partnerships:

  • Many ERCs share REU recruitment information through NAMEPA and WEPAN listservs and newsletters to encourage applications from diverse audiences.

  • Many ERCs list REU program information on the AccessERC “ERC Summer Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities” website to encourage applications from undergraduate students with disabilities.

  • CMaT supports two to four undergraduate students per year from minority-serving institutions external to CMaT to attend CMaT institutions for year-long mentored research experiences.

  • POETS has strategically partnered with two minority-serving institutions for REU recruitment. This focused approach has allowed POETS to build a mutually beneficial relationship where students and faculty know each other and support recruitment efforts through program alumni.

  • NASCENT shares recruitment information about its Texas-based REU program with NSBE, SHPE, SWE, SACNAS, oSTEM, AISES, and other STEM student societies and faculty advisors at institutions across Texas. Graduate Students

Graduate students are recruited from ERC REU and undergraduate research programs as well as through similar organizations, institutions, and programs described previously for undergraduate recruiting. Graduate students may also come from the workforce, veteran community, or other non-traditional pathways into graduate school. Local, regional, and national professional STEM organizations, discipline societies, and alumni organizations can be useful resources or strategic partners for graduate recruiting. The National GEM Consortium student database, the GRE Search Service, and ERC partner institutions’ graduate admissions centers can also be sources of prospective student lists for outreach and recruiting.

Students recruited from an ERC’s REU Program and other undergraduate research activities are already familiar with the ERC’s research, programming, and network. By working closely with ERC EWD staff, ERC undergraduate program alumni applying to graduate school can be identified and mentored through their application process. To encourage consideration for graduate admissions, a list of these ERC alumni applicants can be circulated to faculty involved in graduate admissions at the ERC partner institutions.

Coordinated and collaborative graduate student recruitment can be challenging across institutions, especially where recruitment occurs within separate departments or research groups and the ERC has limited control over the process. Coordinating efforts locally with graduate recruiting or admissions offices at ERC partner institutions can help leverage resources and access recruiting opportunities that may otherwise be cost or time prohibitive. In addition, encouraging ERC faculty or staff to engage in recruitment efforts (graduate admissions committees, recruiting weekends, etc.) on their home campuses can increase ERC visibility and support the ERC’s recruitment goals and strategy.

Additional examples of the varied strategies developed by ERCs for recruiting graduate students include the following:

  • ReNUWIt graduate students created “how to apply” guides for (1) graduate school and (2) the NSF Graduate Fellowship Research Program.

  • ReNUWIt paired (1) REU alumni and (2) REU applicants from groups underrepresented in STEM and primarily undergraduate institutions with graduate student and postdoc mentors who provided feedback and encouragement during the graduate admissions process.

  • NASCENT hosted virtual Graduate Recruiting Meet & Greet events where prospective graduate students who would increase diversity in the graduate student community were invited to meet current NASCENT graduate students in a virtual networking platform (Gatherly), learn more about the ERC, and ask questions.

  • POETS and NASCENT partnered on a graduate student recruiting event and presentation at The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

  • POETS’ DCI Director collects information from ERC faculty on promising candidates they would like to recruit. The DCI Director reaches out individually to gauge prospective student interest, build a relationship, share how the center can support their graduate work, and connect them with current center graduate students with similar backgrounds or interests.

Several ERCs have also used targeted fellowships as tools to recruit graduate students, including:

  • NASCENT incentivized recruitment of women and URM graduate students with 25% matching funds from NASCENT for up to three students.

  • The TANMS Doctoral Fellowship Program offers fellowships to candidates from underrepresented groups who are nominated by faculty and approved by a panel of external reviewers. This has encouraged TANMS faculty to explore students they may not have previously considered due to a variety of factors, including implicit bias.

7.3.3 Recruiting Post-doctoral Scholars

To ensure a diverse applicant pool for ERC postdoc positions, the DCI Director should provide guidance to the hiring faculty member throughout the recruiting and selection process. Guidance might include the following:

  • Assisting in crafting the postdoc job description to include inclusive language welcoming candidates who would increase diversity in the ERC’s postdoctoral community to apply

  • A carefully crafted and high-quality postdoc mentoring plan that can give the ERC faculty compelling arguments to recruit postdoc talent; co-mentorship and career development considerations are two best practices to consider

  • Supporting active recruiting through job boards or career centers that reach candidates who would increase diversity in the ERC’s postdoctoral community (e.g., NAMEPA, WEPAN, ASEE’s Women in Engineering Division (WIED), ASEE’s Minorities in Engineering Division (MIND), Pathways to Science, NSBE, SHPE, SWE, Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, LinkedIn)

  • Sharing with leadership at synergistic ERCs, department chairs or deans at targeted universities including HSIs and HBCUs

  • Providing training or resources to mitigate bias throughout the review, interview, and selection processes.

7.3.4 Recruiting Faculty

ERC faculty are recruited in two ways: expansion via collaborative research and direct hire into a specific department or faculty line. Expansion via collaborative research occurs when non-ERC faculty are added to the ERC, either by joining existing project teams or through the creation of new projects that align with the ERC’s research strategic plan. Since the added researchers are already faculty at one of the ERC’s institutions, this mechanism does not require hiring a new faculty member.

Faculty recruitment via direct hire is less straightforward, because ERCs are rarely the actual hiring agent for the role. When possible, ERCs may seek to influence departmental search processes regarding the use of best practices to attract and hire individuals that increase the diversity of the faculty, including those practices listed above for postdoc recruiting. Aligning ERC DCI efforts with institutional efforts can optimize institutional engagement—for instance, in securing “trailing spouse” support. Some ERCs have had success working with institutional leadership (Deans, Provosts, etc.) to secure new faculty lines, and in those cases they are often able to apply DCI best practices to the search.

Proactive identification of candidates is an important ERC faculty recruiting strategy for both collaborative research and direct hires. It is good practice for ERCs to regularly identify potential collaborators and faculty hires (current faculty, advanced doctoral students, postdocs) who are working on research that aligns with the ERC’s research field. ERC leadership can be proactive in their efforts to both forecast needs and constantly identify potential candidates well before a call for collaboration or an official hiring search is announced.

In addition to the same proactive practices listed previously for postdoc recruiting, there are many strategies, processes, and resources that support the recruitment of faculty that will increase diversity, such as:

  • Creating postdoctoral-to-tenure-track-appointment opportunities that create a pathway for scholars who would increase faculty diversity to be mentored by faculty as a postdoctoral scholar, which then culminates afterward in a potential tenure-track appointment.

7.3.5 Recruiting Staff

Staff hiring is fully within the control of ERC leadership. To design recruiting and hiring practices that lead to increased staff diversity, similar strategies as those described for postdocs and faculty should be used, i.e.:

  • Intentional crafting of job postings to remove unnecessary or biased job requirements, use inclusive language, and encourage applications from individuals who could increase the diversity of ERC staff

  • Maximizing career development and “train the replacement” processes to avoid inadvertent glass ceilings

  • Posting the position through services or systems that reach candidates who could increase the diversity of ERC staff (diversity staff organizations on university campuses, etc.)

  • Utilizing partnerships with minority-owned placement agencies and/or human resource offices at partner institutions to increase the potential to attract many candidates who would increase the diversity of ERC staff

  • Providing training or resources to mitigate bias throughout the review, interview, and selection processes.

Always a good resource to consider are DCI staff of recently graduated ERCs, as well as networking among the current members of the DCI Community of Practice for suggestions of possible candidates.