New conference prepares students for graduate school admission

graduate conference

Conference attendee Bobette Makelele (left) discusses her interest in data science with a representative from the W. P. Carey School of Business. Photo by Dominic Valente/ ASU Enrollment Services Communications

Arizona State University hosted its inaugural Graduate School Conference on Thursday. Co-hosted by ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Admission Services, this new event combined conference-style programming with a graduate school fair.  

“We have found new ways to partner and share resources among our departments to provide a comprehensive experience for attendees,” said John Bevell, the director of professional recruiting and employer relations in Career and Professional Development Services.

“We have combined educational ‘how-to' workshops from ASU colleges, Career Services’ networking opportunities and Admission Services’ graduate school fair, representing more than 40 universities from around the country," he said. "Until now, this would have been three separate events.”

Mike Mobley, director of transfer and graduate admission for Admission Services, jumped at the chance to collaborate with CPDS to turn the graduate school fair into a more robust conference.

“Students were able to attend a session about how to become a competitive graduate applicant in their industry and then turn around and meet with universities offering appropriate degree programs.”

The event, held inside the Memorial Union at the Tempe campus, was attended by current ASU undergraduates and ASU faculty and staff, as well as prospective graduate students.

Bobette Makelele, an admission advisor for graduate programs in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, attended the conference to learn more about graduate programs that could help her in her current position.

“I am looking into data science programs in W. P. Carey (School of Business) and the math department,” said Makelele, who appreciated being able to meet with multiple colleges at once and attend sessions.

Taylor Ryan, a junior studying biological sciences in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, said the panel on “How to make yourself stand out when applying to graduate school” was very informative.

“I learned that I should look for a mentor to help me with the graduate application process," Ryan said. “Someone who I can ask for help with my personal statement and recommendations.”

Carrie Robinson, associate director of fellowships with Graduate Student Recruitment and Assessment in the Fulton Schools, heard about the event and immediately knew it would be a great opportunity for the college.

“We had been looking into ways to host our own prospective graduate student event and this became a great opportunity for us to leverage our resources and make sure students have access to more information,” she said.

Fulton hosted a kickoff breakfast for prospective graduate engineering students with Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies Pat Phelan as the keynote speaker. It was a highlight for current ASU student Darrell “D.J.” Jackson: “I learned a lot about the various engineering degree programs. The presentation was detailed and very helpful.”

Engineering sessions were scheduled throughout the day so prospective engineering graduate students could get personal attention from the Fulton Schools and also learn about ASU in general.

“We hosted a ‘How to fund your graduate education’ session open to all attendees along with our engineering-specific sessions,” Robinson said.

Additional ASU academic units were excited to attend the nontraditional event.

“This is a great opportunity for us to meet with more students than we see at our individual events,” said Dean Niven, assistant director of academic services for the College of Health Solutions, who is now looking into more closely aligning the college’s Discovery Day with the Graduate School Conference next fall.

Gerry West, assistant director of recruiting and outreach for the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts agreed: “We don’t offer enough graduate programs to host our own recruitment event, so to be able to reach this audience helps students discover our degrees.”

“We are fulfilling the ASU Charter to provide opportunities to our community,” said Bevell, who was most excited that multiple sessions were livestreamed so ASU Online students were also able to participate. “It is important to us that our events and resources are available to all ASU students."

Brian Olnick decided to attend the conference when he received an email invitation from Admission Services after requesting information about graduate programs. He currently works in the finance industry but has a master’s degree in psychology and is looking to pursue a doctorate in the same field.

Olnick said he received valuable information from sessions he attended which made him realize how much he still has to prepare before applying to doctoral programs. “The panels were very detailed about what to include in personal statements and made it clear graduate schools are looking for well-rounded applicants.”

“We experimented with a lot of new elements,” Bevell said. “Offering a full day of activities and including lunch and dinner makes it easier for students to find time between their classes to check out the graduate schools or attend a session.”

Providing lunch allowed attendees to meet and compare notes about their morning sessions. Jackson and Olnick struck up a conversation while eating and shared the best tips they received in each session. Both agreed they would attend this event in the future.

“I will attend again. I am very committed to attending graduate school,” said Jackson, who will graduate in 2021 with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and Earth and space exploration. He picked up information on several graduate programs he is considering at ASU.

“I will definitely attend this event again next year for more tips if I don’t enroll in a PhD program before then,” Olnick added.

Bevell and Mobley are already looking forward to next year’s Graduate School Conference.  

“Removing barriers to attending graduate school and helping our ASU community take advantage of educational opportunities is a driving force for us,” Mobley said.

Written by Casey Thomas

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