College Receives Irvine Foundation Grant To Boost Campus Diversity Efforts

In June 2003 Saint Mary's College received its third James Irvine Foundation grant to help the College increase student, faculty, and staff diversity. The foundation, located in San Francisco, awarded the College $350,000, which will also be used to improve academic success among students of color.

"The effect of the grant will be to enhance Saint Mary's efforts to create a vibrant community that promotes appreciation and understanding of how ethnicity, economic background, and culture enrich how we learn," says Barry VanderKelen, vice president for advancement and planning.

Spread out over 36 months, Irvine Foundation funds will support a new position in Enrollment Services to recruit a more diverse pool of transfer students. The grant will help enhance the High Potential Program and strengthen its math and science components. Workshops also will be developed to improve faculty and staff advising, and a position will be added in the Office of Institutional Research to develop better data for assessing the College's diversity efforts.

Dorothy Jones, dean of admissions, expects the new admissions post to dramatically improve the College's recruitment efforts.

"We have a diversity recruitment officer, a post that was first funded by an Irvine grant in the early '90s and whose funding was picked up by the College when the Irvine grant ended," says Jones. "This position will give us a counterpart in the area of transfer recruitment."

The diversity of transfer students entering Saint Mary's College each year is important, says Jones, because they may account for as much as 20 percent of all new students at the College. In fall 2002, the number of traditional undergraduates enrolled for their first year at Saint Mary's was 645, and the number of new transfer students enrolled was 145. The increase in recruiting capability, therefore, will have an effect on enrollment.

"We hope to generate an increase in transfer applications in general as well as an increase in the ethnic diversity of those applicants," Jones adds.

In fall 2003, students who are African American, American Indian, Asian American or Hispanic American accounted for 37 percent of all new freshmen students; ten years ago, they accounted for 32 percent.

Professor John Dennis, director of the High Potential Program, says, "A portion of the grant will be used toward the goal of improving graduation rates of minority students and making sure that they complete their science and math courses in a timely fashion."

An additional aim is to broaden the range of majors in which ethnic minority students generally enroll, says Professor Ted Tsukahara '62, who helped write the grant proposal. Minority students not only are usually underrepresented in college student populations in general but also within certain majors. Strengthening the math and science portions of the High Potential Program should help students to succeed in those areas, he explains.

The College received two previous Irvine Foundation diversity grants. The first was awarded in 1991 to facilitate recruitment of a more diverse student body in the traditional undergraduate programs. The focus of the second Irvine grant, made in 1996, was to help the College recruit and retain professors of color.

"The Irvine Foundation has already enabled Saint Mary's to make significant advances toward diversifying its campus," says VanderKelen. "The new grant will help us to build on the gains we have already made."

-- by Joseph Wakelee-Lynch
College Communications