Jul 26, 2022 | Atlanta, GA
For the past 43 years, the Office of Minority Educational Development (OMED) at Georgia Tech has worked to provide students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds with equity-focused opportunities and resources designed to support their success in college and their careers.
Thanks to a grant from the Strada Education Network, in partnership with the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity, Georgia Tech has been able to expand and scale its programming that focuses on enhancing the educational experiences and outcomes of underrepresented students through OMED. These efforts will be led by Sybrina Atwaters, director of OMED, and Sonia Alvarez Robinson, executive director of Strategic Consulting.
The Beyond Completion Challenge provides 15 institutions with a $250,000 innovation grant to implement initiatives designed to ensure that all students, especially people of color, first-generation students, and those who struggle to pay for their education, are positioned to succeed beyond graduation.
“Georgia Tech has invested in supporting underrepresented students for more than 40 years; however, today’s environment necessitates that we broaden the scale, scope, and impact to aggressively meet the rapidly growing and complex needs of our diverse student body,” said Atwaters. “This award will add funding to the Institute’s investments, allowing us to further innovate and scale our work.”
OMED plans to scale and expand its programming in two main areas — diversity transfer pathway recruitment and retention, and diversity career and innovation pathways.
Diversifying Transfer Pathway Initiatives
While most peer mentoring and bridge programs have been historically successful in the recruitment and retainment of first-year and traditional students of color, OMED recognized a need for similar programming for incoming transfer students. Through Peer-I-scope, OMED provides Achieve Atlanta and transfer pathway students with established networks of accountability beyond the classroom, such as academic and professional network cultivation, cultural belonging and intercultural interaction strategies, peer matching, and centralized resource hubs.
“The goal of Peer-I-scope is to provide students with support from day one, ensuring academic success, as well as helping them to build community and expand their scope of influence,” said Atwaters. “We want them to come into their Georgia Tech experience knowing that their academic persistence will pay off.”
The grant will also help expand the GT Transfer Bridge program, a collaborative program between the Center for Engineering Education and Diversity (CEED) and OMED, aimed at expanding the integration of students who transfer to Georgia Tech–particularly students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The bridge program will provide a one-week summer intensive that would provide students with early access to student networks, faculty, campus life, small group discussions, and academic workshops. The GT Transfer Bridge program will welcome its first cohort of students in August 2022.
“The program, led by Veda Chandler, assistant director for academic support with OMED, and Valentina De La Fé, program manager with CEED, will build upon historic efforts by CEED to support the College of Engineering’s Dual Degree Enrollment Program (DDEP) and Regent’s Engineering Pathway Program (REPP) students while broadening the scope and scale of transfer student support to incorporate students from the other four transfer pathways.” Atwaters said, “Challenge, our five-week summer intensive for incoming first-year students, serves as a strong and historical DEI recruitment and retention tool towards expanding access, and establishing the GT Transfer Bridge program dedicated to incoming transfer students we will continue that work.”
Equitable Outcomes in Career and Innovation Pathways
OMED’s Three-Week Career Immersion program, a collaborative partnership between OMED, the GT Career Center, and Strategic Consulting provides specialized resources and mentorship opportunities for students who have historically faced institutional and systemic barriers to career preparation in a competitive post-pandemic job market. With Strada’s help, OMED was able to expand the 2022 program, pairing 22 students with an executive at a major corporation who provided dedicated one-on-one career support and coaching to students, providing them with an inside look at what their desired career path could look like.
“I’d just wrapped up my second year at Georgia Tech, and in a sea of LinkedIn posts, it was evident that I was the odd one out, struggling to secure internships with limited work experience,” said program participant Azalia Cyphers. “When I heard about this program that provides you with a personalized match that also happens to be an executive at a major corporation, I thought to myself that this has to be a scam.”
Cyphers recalled hearing Atwaters explain to participants that as underrepresented students, they must often insert themselves into doors of opportunity, a sentiment that really struck a chord with her.
“Looking back on the program, I’m grateful that I took that first step through a door. We left the program with invaluable tangible tools that allow us to go out into the world as the best Georgia Tech students and alumni we can.”
“The Three-Week Career Immersion program is an essential piece of our Institute strategic goals of amplifying impact, expanding access, and cultivating well-being,” Alvarez-Robinson said. “This unique opportunity empowers students to build skills and confidence as they prepare to head into the next chapter of life. The matching of students with executive-level mentors is a crucial component, as it gives them access to experiences and insights that are not often available to them.”
The Study Abroad and Global Innovation program provided access to global experiences for underrepresented students through a study abroad experience designed to help them connect globally in their STEM and innovation pursuits.
During the inaugural program, seven students spent three weeks traveling in South Africa and Namibia exploring the culture, land, and history through historical leaders, activists, and faculty. The group visited museums and historic sites as well as environmental sites and global landmarks.
“This program was important for Georgia Tech’s collaborative units and our global partners to further our understanding of the role of historic barriers and curriculum design in the observed inequities associated with experiential learning opportunities such as international education,” said Atwaters. “We intentionally designed the curriculum to address four of the six focus areas under the 2020 Institute Strategic Plan – expand access, amplify impact, connect globally, and lead by example.”
The student participants walked away from the experience with a new perspective on the global issues facing these countries and found themselves drawing parallels to their own experiences in America or in their desired career paths.
“Since I was young, I knew I wanted to work in clinical medicine,” reflected Princess Adomakoh. “Yet, as I grew and learned about American history, I understood how social standing and status affected how people were able to access and receive healthcare. This opportunity helped me to learn so much about myself and what I want out of my career. I’ve grown to know myself and others better and to connect with people from different backgrounds. This trip was truly a life-changing experience.”
For more information about OMED or to get involved with its programming, visit omed.gatech.edu.