Pratt brass try new admissions strategies

The Pratt School of Engineering is stepping up its recruitment efforts--a measure administrators said will help maintain the quality of entering classes when the school starts to expand in Fall 2005.

The Board of Trustees agreed at its October 2003 meeting to expand Pratt by 200 students over four years, with an understanding that the quality of incoming classes would not be compromised. Now administrators say the applicant pool is large enough and deep enough to warrant the expansion, as trends over the last few years have shown increased selectivity and a higher rate of matriculation to Pratt.

Still, no one is ready to simply sit back and let the expansion run its course without any additional efforts from both Pratt and the undergraduate admissions office.

  "We've seen an increase in interest in engineering in our applicant pool, but we will still continue to work closely with Pratt to make the recruitment process even better," said Christoph Guttentag, director of undergraduate admissions.

  Tod Laursen, Pratt's senior associate dean for education, echoed Guttentag's sentiment. "The strength of the applicant pool by every measure--test scores, performance in high school--has continued to increase every year for several years. But we don't want to become complacent," he said. "When we start accepting more students in a couple of years, it will be important to keep that selectivity where it has been and to continue to increase the quality of our students."

  Laursen said one element of Pratt's heightened recruitment efforts is a new Pratt Student Ambassadors program, spearheaded by Pratt's associate dean for student affairs, Linda Franzoni.

  "We have heard from students who are considering applying or who have been accepted that they want to see more of the engineering facilities on the tour agenda or they want to find out more about engineering in addition to finding out about student life in general at Duke," Laursen said.

  Guttentag noted that, in the past, tour guides leaving from the undergraduate admissions office have hosted both Trinity and Pratt students, but have been unable to lead the tours as far as Science Drive due to time constraints. With the student ambassadors program, current Pratt students meet with parents and potential students on an ad hoc basis, often on short notice, and can cater a tour to a Pratt visitor's specific needs.

  Laursen said the school's request for student volunteers for the program, which started this fall, received "phenomenal" response from current engineering students.

  Another piece of Pratt's recruitment pie is its redesigned website, which rolled out earlier this month under the direction of Deborah Hill, Pratt's new communications director.

  "When we met in the beginning of July to map out our needs with respect to communication, we expressed that we wanted more student-oriented information in the way we promote ourselves, and we saw that the website was the way to do that," Laursen said. "We redesigned it largely in response to what we heard from current students and people who have gone through the program."

  The amended website features a number of case histories from both current Pratt students and Pratt graduates, describing the different types of projects students and graduates work on in particular fields of engineering.

  "It turns out that engineering people are practically minded, so they want to know specifically what they will do when they're in school and after they graduate," Laursen said.

  The school has also tried to spice up the promotional materials it is sending out with traveling admissions officers. Guttentag said Pratt and the admissions office have established a close working relationship, especially since admissions designated Alice Sy, assistant director of undergraduate admissions, as the official engineering liaison.

  "The brochures they've been taking and the work Alice Sy has been doing in educating schools about the wonder of engineering has really ramped up our recruiting efforts," said Dean of Pratt Kristina Johnson. Laursen said he and other Pratt administrators have helped prepare materials admissions officers take on the road and have talked with admissions officers more informally about students' experiences in Pratt.

  "Not only do we want to recruit the right kind of students to Duke, but it's also important that the students we do recruit will be happy once they get here," Laursen said. "The best way to do that is to make sure admissions officers talking to potential Pratt students have the right ammunition--that they know what the undergraduate research opportunities are and have some personalized stories they can use out on the road. It seems simple, but it requires a good working relationship to make sure we update those stories before they go."

  Laursen noted that increased communication about the school will help increase the school's selectivity in more than one way.

  "One way to keep our selectivity higher is to continue to get more applications. But on the other hand, if we don't have as many students transferring out, we don't have to admit as many to get the number we want to see in graduating classes," he said. "We will be able to have fewer students transferring out of Pratt after they get here if they have a realistic view of what to expect here."

  In order to focus recruitment efforts in particular regions where Pratt applications are few, admissions and Pratt are considering sending Pratt faculty members to information sessions in those areas. Although the practice will occur on an ad hoc basis, Laursen said he hopes to employ it more often if it proves effective.

  "It's obviously impractical to make every Duke info session include a Duke faculty member," Laursen said. "But maybe we can use faculty here and there where the session can be coupled effectively with travel they're already doing. It's something potential students could certainly appreciate if they can grab a faculty member and chat with them about their interests after a session."


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