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Progress in Graduate Student Recruitment

April 19, 2021

To: The Caltech Community
    Bil Clemons, Professor of Biochemistry and Chair of the President's Diversity Council
    President's Diversity Council Members
Date: April 19, 2021
Re: Progress in Graduate Student Recruitment

As the graduate admission season comes to an end, we are thrilled to celebrate some inspiring news regarding our efforts to become a more inclusive Caltech. As you are aware, Caltech is working to create a community that reflects and represents our broader society. This is critical for the future success of our core mission, which is world-class scholarship and discovery. While this has been a goal for some time, progress was spurred by recent events and community-wide efforts, thanks in large part to advocacy from our students. With fresh ideas and effort from community members throughout the Institute, Caltech launched multiple programs this year, including Future Ignited and Caltech Shines, and also allocated new financial resources such as fellowships. Together, these efforts aimed to significantly improve our profile in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 

We are happy to report that this hard work across the campus is already paying off. A critical metric of success is Caltech's ability to attract talented scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds. The energy and goodwill that you all have invested has produced measurable progress in expanding our applicant pool and recruiting accepted applicants to come to Caltech. This has succeeded in creating an incoming graduate class reflective of our goals. Caltech has 305 students in our incoming graduate student class of 2021; this number is higher than our recent average and includes deferrals from 2020. Consistent with our improving demographics, Caltech will welcome 120 women (39%) into our graduate program; this marks a new high (our previous five-year average is 32%). 

In academia, the umbrella acronym URM (underrepresented minorities) has been used to broadly describe those who identify as Latinx and BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color). While URM is a complicated term, it allows us to reflect on our numbers within this group. In 2019, we had a record number of URM students who matriculated into the graduate program at 22; our recent five-year average has been 6% of the total class. For the incoming class of 2021, we smashed that record. We're delighted to announce that Caltech will be welcoming 54 URM students into the graduate program this fall, representing 18% of our total graduate students and 31% of our domestic graduate students. Our incoming class includes 21 students who identify as Black or African American. For perspective, as highlighted by the Black Scientist and Engineers of Caltech (BSEC), last spring the entire population of Black graduate students at Caltech was 11 and even that small number has since decreased. With this incoming class alone, we have tripled the number of Black graduate students in a single year.

These improvements required the hard work of many in our community and we all deserve credit for the new will to improve that has permeated the campus. It is important, however, to specifically thank the various campus groups that have contributed labor towards these goals. Most notable are student run organizations such as BSEC, Club Latino, PRISM, and our Women In groups. Also central to these efforts are the leadership from the Graduate Student Council and the Caltech Postdoctoral Association, which have been vigilant in supporting the various initiatives that Caltech has created. Each division and institute has generated funding, resources, and structures to make these improvements possible. And we are grateful to the many staff members who took on extra work to transform these goals into realities.

While there is much to be proud of, we cannot rest. These results demonstrate what we can do with will alone. That is not sustainable. Replicating and building on this year's success is the next critical challenge. We must meet this challenge and create lasting change, and that will require additional dedicated staff and committed resources. We must learn from our experiences, both successes and mistakes, and continue to create a Caltech that will be a beacon for both our scholarship and our commitment to inclusion.

This all builds on the continued efforts of the Institute to be a leader in DEI. Along those lines, Caltech will welcome three new Black faculty members at convocation this fall, including our first Professor of English and Black Studies. This brings our total number of Black faculty to eight, up from only two at the start of 2018. We continue to leverage fellowships to increase the diversity in our postdoctoral population. For our undergraduate population, we have admitted the most widely representative class ever. And soon, we will launch our first campus-wide climate survey, which will require all of our participation. 

These changing demographics require that we take on the inclusive mentality to which we aspire. We are fortunate that these talented students have chosen to come to Caltech. We must ensure that each and every one of our arriving students has the tools and support they need to succeed. If you would like to become more involved in building our inclusive culture, there are many resources provided through the Center for Inclusion and Diversity to help. The goal of an inclusive Caltech is only possible with the community that is Caltech working together towards our shared future.