Admissions Calls Out to Women in Science
Potential science concentrators in Class of 2009 get phone calls
In the wake of the controversy surrounding University President Lawrence H. Summers’ January remarks that “differences in intrinsic aptitude” may explain the underrepresentation of women in science, the Harvard Undergraduate Admissions Office has enlisted more than two dozen female math and science concentrators to call all accepted female students who expressed a strong interest in science on their applications.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said in an interview yesterday that his office has received “almost no questions” about Summers’ comments from prospective members of the Class of 2009.
“[But] we also want to make sure we cover every possible base,” Fitzsimmons added.
Admissions officer Erin F. Fehn ’04 said yesterday that the admissions office’s emphasis on women in science this year is an extension of its annual efforts to reach out to admitted students.
“We decided to put a positive spin on the media coverage,” said Fehn, who is also the director of the Undergraduate Admissions Council. “We wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and get the word out so they can make an informed decision.”
Fehn said that the admissions office first contacted the directors of undergraduate studies in the College’s science departments and asked for the names of female undergraduate concentrators who would be interested in making telephone calls.
According to Fehn, 25 to 30 undergraduates called every accepted female applicant who had expressed strong interest in the sciences between April 11 and April 13.
She added that the callers were not required to discuss Summers’ remarks in their conversations—which lasted from five minutes to half an hour.
“I told the girls it was up to them...to address the issue,” Fehn said. “And when the girls didn’t bring it up themselves, it wasn’t talked about.”
Christine B. Peterson ’05, an applied math concentrator, said the prospective students she contacted did not express concerns with Summers’ remarks.
“Nobody said that it had really affected their admissions decision in any way,” she said.
Ruth A. S. Schlitz ’06, an engineering sciences concentrator, said she spent most of her time answering questions about the freshman experience.
“I had a lot of questions from the prospective students about what classes they should take, which was often the case because they’d already decided to come here,” she said.
Fehn said she hopes the admissions office will be able to call female prospective science concentrators next year as well.
According to Fitzsimmons, the admissions office has also taken steps to reach out to prospective students who have qualified for the new Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, which eliminates the parental contribution to tuition for families earning less than $40,000 each year. The program also lowers the contribution for parents who make between $40,000 and $60,000.
The Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program—which annually helps the admissions office contact African American, Asian American, Latino, and Native American students offered a place at Harvard—continued its work this year, Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons said he feels that student-to-student interactions are important in winning over accepted applicants.
“In the end, students are much more credible than adults,” he said.
As of yesterday afternoon, 988 pre-frosh had signed up to visit Harvard this weekend, Fitzsimmons said, adding that he expects attendance to top 1,000.
—Staff writer Daniel J. T. Schuker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.