Jo Anne Phang, assistant director of admissions for
diversity, finds interactions with students to be one of the most rewarding parts of her job.
An Agent of Change
Jo Anne Phang has a unique perspective on her roles as chair of the University’s Committee on Diversity and assistant director of admissions for diversity. She falls into several of the ethnic groups from which she’s striving to recruit students. “With a name like Phang [pronounced Pang], most people assume on paper that I’m Asian,” she says. “When they look at me, they say ‘OK, I see the Asian, but there’s something else there.’ Some assume I’m Polynesian, Hawaiian, or Hispanic. In certain cities I visit, people come up to me and start talking right away in Spanish.” To clarify: Her father is of African American and Portuguese descent, while her mother’s ancestors were from China and East India. “I’m a little bit of everything,” she says. |
Phang heads a panel of 18 staff and faculty members, administrators, and students created last year by Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw. “We view the committee as an agent of change,” Phang says. “It was pulled together to tackle the issue of student diversity on campus, in terms of recruiting. Our role is to set realistic goals for the University.”
Phang says the University’s commitment to diversity is evident in a number of initiatives the Chancellor outlined last fall, among them faculty, staff, and student recruitment. Of last fall’s freshman class of 2,800, 17 percent were students of color, Phang says. “We’re definitely looking to increase that percentage through a variety of activities, so when students come here, they see students and faculty members in their disciplines who look like them. We also want them to realize there are ample supportive programs and organizations for students of color.”
The admissions office’s recruitment plan consists of three parts, Phang says. “First we create an awareness of Syracuse through several communication pieces and on- and off-campus activities. Then we build on that familiarity with the University, encouraging students to apply to SU. The third phase is our yield stage, where we encourage students we have admitted to the University to enroll.”
For the first stage, admissions officers visit public and private schools, including approximately 30 magnet high schools around the country that offer such specialized curricula as architecture, public service, engineering, and the sciences. “These magnet schools attract students from a variety of neighborhoods who have to meet special requirements before they are admitted,” she says. “Once admitted, they have to maintain a certain academic standard to stay in the college prep curriculum. We know the students coming out of those high schools are well-prepared for college, as well as gifted and talented.” Phang, along with Dean of Admissions Susan Donovan and S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications recruiter Maximo Patino, also interviewed a number of students of color at Greenberg House in Washington, D.C., last October.
To build on those contacts, the admissions office coordinates fall “open house” receptions on campus, attracting hundreds of students who are still in “shopping mode,” along with their parents, Phang says. Once students are admitted to the University, the office holds several spring receptions for them. “We offer a multicultural weekend and invite students of color who have been admitted to the University to spend a couple of nights on campus in a residence hall with current students,” Phang says. “This enables them to make a social and cultural connection, and they also make an academic connection by meeting with faculty and students from the school they have been admitted to.” This year, five busloads of students from the New York City area, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Boston will spend a weekend at SU.
Phang, who joined the SU staff in 1989 and has been with the admissions office since 1993, says recruitment is among the most gratifying work she has done. She enjoys meeting students and their parents, and following them through the recruitment cycle—from initial contact at a high school or college fair to hearing them say during a campus visit, “We’ve just left the deposit in the bursar’s office.” She adds: “What is most rewarding is having these students stop by between classes during their freshman or sophomore year to say, ‘Hi,’ or ‘I’m in this play on campus. Can you come see me and my group perform?’ And continuing that contact throughout their four years at SU.”