MIT students launch ambitious mentorship program for graduate admissions in electrical engineering and computer science

The student-run program pairs underrepresented applicants with graduate student mentors, and will be among the largest in the U.S.

Story by Micah Smith and Madeleine Laitz



RADUATE STUDENTS FROM MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) announced today the launch of a new mentorship program for students from underrepresented backgrounds applying to graduate programs in electrical

engineering and computer science. This initiative, called the Graduate Application Assistance Program (GAAP), will be one of the largest student-run graduate mentorship programs in the United States in its first year, pairing nearly 100 committed mentors with as many as 200 applicants from underrepresented backgrounds. Applicants and their mentors will work closely together throughout the fall semester to refine key application materials including personal and research statements to improve the graduate school application experience and outcomes. As the application deadline approaches, GAAP will additionally offer a series of office hours for program participants putting the finishing touches on their application materials.

The lack of diversity in EECS departments has been a striking problem at MIT and other institutions for many years. With more than 700 enrolled doctoral students and 3600 applicants to the graduate program last year, MIT EECS is one of the largest research departments in the US. Despite its size, only 5% of EECS doctoral students are underrepresented minority students and only 22% are women, according to MIT Institutional Research and the MIT Registrar. Despite years of institutional effort and a comprehensive list of recommendations written by the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) to address racial bias at MIT, little progress has been made, according to a report from The Tech.

“Part of increasing diversity and equity in EECS is to help underrepresented individuals make their way into our department,” said Ella Wassweiler, Founding Organizer of GAAP and PhD candidate in Electrical Engineering in the Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Lab. “While we hope applicants come to MIT, we want GAAP participants to find success in a doctoral program that both challenges and grows their capabilities, and we view any applicant that feels more confident about their application to be a success of GAAP.”

GAAP is an effort launched by THRIVE at EECS in partnership with the EECS Graduate Students Association, Graduate Women in Course 6, and the EECS Communication Lab, with support from the EECS Graduate Office and the Committee on Diversity Equity and Inclusion. It builds upon existing mentorship programs at MIT in Biomedical Engineering, Urban Studies + Planning, Health Sciences and Technology, and the Office of Graduate Education. For students in any academic department looking to improve diversity and equity in their communities, MIT’s EECS GAAP can serve as a model for graduate admissions assistance, providing guidance, feedback, and support to applicants who may not have ready access to application resources and contacts.

"When I applied to grad school, I was fortunate to have guidance from several advisors and friends who had gone through the process," said Liane Makatura, GAAP Organizer and Mentor, and PhD student in Computer Science in the Computational Fabrication Group. "This guidance was critical for me and I think that GAAP is a great way to pay it forward, by helping applicants present themselves in the best way possible and demystifying the implicit knowledge involved in the application process."

Mentors in GAAP, who are current doctoral students in EECS or its four affiliated research laboratories, are given comprehensive training by experts from the EECS Communication Lab and faculty members formerly on the department's Admissions Committee. Mentors also commit to strict confidentiality procedures in order to protect the integrity of the admissions process and must recuse themselves from any formal admissions duties.

Eligible applicants can sign up for GAAP until November 8, 2020 at Applicants for graduate admission to the MIT EECS department from the following groups are eligible to participate: underrepresented minority (URM) students including Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Native American/Alaskan Native students (U.S. citizens and permanent residents only); first generation students; gender minority students, including women, non-binary, and transgender students; LGBTQIA+ students; low-income students (U.S. Citizens and permanent residents only); students supporting dependents; or students with disabilities.


ChemE Coaching.jpg

ChemE Comm Lab

GAAP Organizers

Ella Wassweiler, 

Liane Makatura, 

Madeleine Laitz, 

Micah Smith, 

Doga Dogan, 

Peter Satterthwaite, 

Rachel Holladay, 

Rebecca Peyser, 

Willie Boag,

EECS Comm Lab

Mohamed Ibrahim, 

Tej Chajed,

Maz Abulnaga, 

©2020 THRIVE in EECS at MIT

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