In SIPS we are committed to training the next generation of scientists to make foundational discoveries and provide science-based solutions to issues of food security, environmental conservation, and human health and well-being, whether career paths lead to industry, policy-making, international engagement, food production, or education. The educational experience of Cornell graduate students is enriched by the variety of backgrounds of its members, who bring valuable and diverse perspectives to our collective efforts to creatively address world challenges. These perspectives in turn shape how individual students choose where and how to apply their education after Cornell.
The graduate student body reflects diverse national origin, students from rural and urban backgrounds, and interests that span a wide range of topics within the plant and soil sciences. However, analysis of the applicant pool reveals that SIPS graduate programs receive very few applications from students who are Black, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and of the first generation in their family to attend college (collectively referred to as underrepresented minorities or URM). This represents a lost opportunity for our graduate programs. Not only is diversity a cornerstone of an equitable and socially conscious community, but differences in experience among students enhance creativity and lead to more innovative research.
While there are many causes for the low volume of URM applicants, the mission of the Diversity Preview Weekend is to lower the barriers to participation by familiarizing participants with different aspects of graduate school. Over the course of the weekend, to be held March 8 – 11, 2018, participants will be hosted by current students and meet with lab groups and faculty. They will learn about the process of applying to and choosing graduate programs, how funding is obtained, and the range of career paths open to them after graduate school.
The Diversity Preview Weekend was launched in 2017 by students in the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and of Entomology, with students in SIPS joining the effort for 2018. Co-leaders from SIPS include Julia Miller (Plant Bio), Nick Segerson (Plant Bio), Michelle Laterrade (Plant Bio), and Chris Peritore (PPPMB), with other graduates taking roles in various committees.
Peritore, recently returned from the 2017 SACNAS Conference (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science), commented, “It has been astounding how many times that I have brought up in conversation the lack of diversity in SIPS and been told ‘minorities simply aren’t interested in agriculture.’ Food is such an inextricable part of our lives and cultures; therefore everyone has a stake in how their food is grown, processed, and ultimately ends up at their table. For many of us that come from historically underrepresented backgrounds, a career in science does not seem attainable. This idea gets reinforced when we enter predominantly white fields such as agricultural sciences with little to no representation at the faculty level, and have only a few peers with shared or similar backgrounds. What we aim to accomplish with this event is to make students who identify with many of the axes of being an underrepresented minority (URM) in academia aware of graduate studies in agricultural sciences here at Cornell. Agricultural sciences has historically been a predominantly white male field, and I believe that Cornell can be on the forefront of positive change towards increasing diversity and inclusivity as long as we address the issue and make this evolution a priority.”
The application deadline for participation in the Diversity Preview Weekend is December 1, 2017. If you have colleagues at institutions where undergraduates may be interested in learning more about graduate school, share the Diversity Preview Weekend link at http://www.inclusivecornell.org/