'Grad School Boot Camp' Attracts a Diverse Crowd

New Pratt-wide program teaches prospective graduate students about applications, fellowships and opportunities at Duke

Duke Engineering Pratt School of Engineering Graduate School Bootcamp 2016

This fall, students, staff and faculty at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering banded together to help undergraduates from all over the country take the next step in their careers.

On October 21, Duke Engineering hosted nearly 40 students at a “Graduate School Boot Camp” designed to help prospective students learn more about the grad-school admissions process, how to apply for fellowships, and summer research, training grant and graduate study opportunities here at Duke.  Focused on encouraging more women and underrepresented students to consider advanced studies in engineering, the new school-wide program was inspired by the success of similar workshops held by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in spring 2015 and 2016.

“The day really helped answer a lot of the questions I had about graduate school. I’m currently trying to decide between going into graduate school and industry, and listening to the faculty talk about what their daily routines look like and how they got to where they are was very helpful.”

–Blessing Tayisepi, 2016 boot camp participant

“Our goal was to take the great framework already in place from the ECE Department, add some programming and scale it up to allow even more students to participate,” said Johnna Frierson, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in Engineering, who coordinated the program along with Claudia Gunsch, associate professor of civil & environmental engineering, and Amy Kostrewa, PhD program coordinator in ECE. “We wanted to give undergraduate students who were seriously thinking about graduate school an opportunity to learn how to navigate applications and what earning a master’s or doctorate degree is really all about.”

The hook? Spend a day at Duke learning what graduate school admission officers are looking for in an application, how to secure national fellowships and what Duke’s engineering school has to offer, all expenses paid.

“We were looking for students who had a passion for engineering,” said Frierson, “as well as faculty recommendations to show that the candidate was seriously considering graduate school and could thrive there.”  

After some stiff competition for invitations, 37 students attended the day-long program from all over the country. The program consisted of overviews of how to best position yourself for graduate school, the various engineering departments at Duke, panels of graduate students to answer questions about their various activities and the application process for several national fellowships. After an intense day, the activities wrapped up with campus tours, a Pratt Engineering Graduate Student Council social and dinner at The Pit in downtown Durham.

“The program offered a great blend of informational sessions and networking with Pratt faculty and graduate students,” said Gunsch. “I think that all the participants left with a wealth of strategies that will help them craft stellar applications and ultimately become well-adjusted graduate students.”

From the participants’ perspective, it sounds like the boot camp was a hit.

“The day really helped answer a lot of the questions I had about graduate school, “said Blessing Tayisepi, an undergraduate originally from Zimbabwe who is now studying at Michigan State University. “I’m currently trying to decide between going into graduate school and industry. Listening to the faculty talk about what their daily routines look like and how they got to where they are was very helpful.”

“I know I want to get into the biomedical field to improve people’s lives and maybe save some lives along the way,” said Braden Li, a materials science and engineering student at the University of Florida. “I saw that Duke combines their mechanical engineering and materials science programs and is really strong in the mechanical side of biomedical applications. I wanted to come here and learn more about the program. I’d say my biggest takeaway has been really getting to know the people here—how they function, what makes them tick, and why they want to be here.”

When asked if they’re considering applying to Duke for graduate school, there seemed to be no question.

“Yeah, that’s for sure,” said Tayisepi.

“I think after this, yeah, for sure,” echoed Li.

Interested in attending a future Duke Engineering Graduate School Bootcamp? Contact Johnna Frierson to learn more.