Liza Cariaga-Lo travels across the country on a sales mission, but doesn’t go door-to-door hawking the Encyclopedia Brittanica, life insurance or even Avon cosmetic products.
Rather she sells Yale — the Graduate School, to be precise — and has a very specific target market.
Cariaga-Lo, an associate dean of the Graduate School and director of its Office for Diversity and Equal Opportunity, works to increase representation of minorities in doctoral and master’s programs.
Her efforts seem to be paying off: doctoral applications from blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are up more than 30 percent from last year, going from 185 to 247. The Graduate School received 270 applications from these underrepresented minorities when terminal master’s programs are taken into account.
“We hope it’s because we have had a more concerted effort in this area,” Cariaga-Lo said. “I think that has kind of helped put Yale on the map for some of these students.”
The minority numbers, which Cariaga-Lo said include African-American, Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, Cuban-American and Native American applicants, still represent a very small portion of the entire applicant pool.
Yale received 5,625 applications for doctoral programs this year, and the 247 applicants from underrepresented minorities are little more than 4 percent of that total.
The Graduate School created Cariaga-Lo’s office last year because the school traditionally had a significantly lower enrollment of minorities and women than other graduate programs at Yale.
“Obviously we still have a lot of work to do,” Cariaga-Lo said. “[But] in terms of similar universities to Yale that’s probably about where it’s at.”
Cariaga-Lo and Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said they are working to change images of Yale among underrepresented minority students.
“Many minority candidates just don’t know that they should apply to Yale,” Hockfield said.
Cariaga-Lo said that when she traveled to traditionally black colleges in Atlanta, students said they considered Yale as a far-off ivory tower.
“There are these images of Yale,” she said. “They don’t realize that it is also a community.”
Even when Yale does get minority students to apply, the Graduate School has had problems getting admitted minorities to choose Yale, Hockfield said.
“We want to make sure that minority students understand that Yale is a hospitable place for them,” Hockfield said.
Cariaga-Lo said five students who work as Graduate School diversity fellows will help her office personally phone every admitted student from an underrepresented minority as part of efforts to increase the matriculation rate.
Cariaga-Lo said this year’s crop of minority applicants is strong, especially in the sciences. She said she believes more minority students will decide to come to Yale.
“I think we will expect to see an increase this year,” Cariaga-Lo said.