Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Getting to Know: Dr. Juan A. Gilbert

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Getting to Know: Dr. Juan A. Gilbert

Article excerpt

Can computer software help college admissions officers create a diverse freshman class?

Dr. Juan A. Gilbert thinks so.

The 37-year-old Auburn University associate professor of computer science and software engineering has developed a program that can sort thousands of student applicants by academic performance, geographic background, socioeconomic status, gender, race and other attributes, allowing admissions officers to build a freshman class that is a mosaic of of student types.

"When you do a holistic comparison of applicants, you're going to be able to get some of everybody into your student pool," Gilbert says.

The idea for the software came to Gilbert after the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action. Even though the court allowed the race of applicants to be considered, Gilbert feared schools might drop race-conscious affirmative action practices to avert the risk of lawsuits. He recognized that schools could benefit from tools to help them provide holistic evaluations of their applicants.

So Gilbert developed "Applications Quest" software, which organizes students into clusters based on a range of shared characteristics chosen by admissions offices. The officers can then select the person who best adds to the overall diversity of the class--or they can just adjust the variables and regroup the students.

"This is an opportunity for admissions offices to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and promote holistic diversity within their respective institutions in a fair and equitable manner that does not disenfranchise any individual or group," Gilbert says.

Half a dozen universities are quietly testing the software, which Auburn University and Gilbert are offering for free.

Gilbert was the first member of his working-class, Hamilton, Ohio, family to attend college. …

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