Jimmy Williams Shares His Experience in “Why Graduate School?” Keynote

On Tuesday, January 24, the Black Graduate Student Organization (BGSO) hosted its second installment of the “Why Graduate School?” series, focusing on planning for graduate school.

The evening began with a keynote from Dr. Jimmy Williams, Executive Director and Distinguished Service Professor of the E&TIM program. Over the course of his career, Dr. Williams has held multiple corporate executive positions in the technology industry. He shared his experiences with graduate and undergraduate students, outlining his career path, and articulating the value of advanced degrees in industry. He also touched on the importance of diversity in the workplace, as well as the dichotomy between working for academia and the industry. This translated perfectly to the need for diversity in graduate education. Companies that not only cite their diversity statistics, but those that foster an environment where diversity of thought can occur, become successful. This concept also applies to academic institutions such as CMU, and particularly resounds with our community due to current conversations on diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Suzie Laurich-McIntyre, Assistant Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Graduate Student Ombudsman, gave a comprehensive presentation on identifying graduate programs that best fits the interests of each student. She also discussed how to plan and apply to graduate school. The event concluded with an informal networking session where graduate student volunteers from various departments connected with interested undergraduate students.

The intent of this series is to encourage underrepresented students to pursue graduate studies in STEM fields. This initiative serves to combat “leaks” in the STEM pipeline by (i) discussing the benefits entering graduate school as an alternative to entering the workforce after the completion of undergraduate studies, (ii) dispelling myths and misconceptions about the graduate school experience, (iii) providing workshops on the graduate school application process and writing personal statements, and (iv) providing opportunities for graduate students to mentor undergraduates.

Last fall BGSO hosted an informal discussion with the undergraduate students from the CMU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Black awareness group SPIRIT. The aim was to gauge interest in graduate school from the minority undergraduate students and dispel any myths they had about graduate school in the hopes of encouraging them to attend. Because of the high attendance from undergraduate and graduate students, the “Why Graduate School?” Series was formed to continue the conversation. The disparities between minority representation in advanced education are stark, and this is BGSO’s attempt to close that gap.