Harvard Admission Process – Additional Blog Post 3

Most of us are aware of the ongoing trial regarding the alleged racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in the Harvard admissions process. It has become clear in the first couple of weeks of trial that getting into Harvard is not all about grades and scores on standardized tests. The admissions are done on the basis of scores in four categories – athletic ability, academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities. Family connections, large fundings to the school, racial background, low income, and other factors all make a difference. Specifically, it is the category of personal qualities where a student’s ethnicity and racial background is considered. It has been found that Asian-American students score relatively low as compared to African-Americans, Latinos, and White. The case is by a group named Students for Fair Admissions who argue that Harvard disfavors high-achieving Asian-Americans and gives a boost to African-American, Hispanic and other white students in their admission process.

During the trial, Dean Fitzsimmons agreed to keep a dean’s list of children of big donors for admissions. He argues that these funds are necessary for scholarships and other purposes of the university. Dean also agreed that the university provides admissions to African-American and Latinos having test scores in the middle range as compared to White Americans and Asian-Americans who are required to relatively score higher in the tests. Fitzsimmons explains that this support is required as the blacks and Hispanics do not get an equal opportunity to prepare for standardized tests because of economic disadvantage. He also said that the chances of a son of a migrant worker getting admission is higher than a regular student from Boston because of the diversity and the life experience that the student brings to the table.

Answering to the allegations of discrimination against Asian-Americans,  he admitted that they do score lower in the personality category but it is due to the letters of recommendation that they receive from the guidance counselors and teachers in high school. He feels that Asian-Americans generally do poorly in this category which represents likeability, leadership, and other personal traits. Dean provided facts that the Asian-Americans constitute about 22.7% of total students which is a great improvement as compared to just 5% in the 1980s. The 22.7% is still greater than 15% of African-Americans and 12% of Latinos.

I personally feel that the Harvard admission process might have some flaws(big donor admissions and some racial discrimination in the admissions) but dividing the overall admission process into 4 categories is good. It is not all about merit and good scores but about the different skill sets that make you stand out in the audience. A more balanced student in terms of studies, grades, outdoor activities, life experience, communication skills etc. should have a better chance of getting admission. I would happily accept rejection till the time anybody processing my application is not racially biased and goes through the admission process properly.  This process is still more balanced and complete as compared to caste or religion based reservations in Indian universities. So, if the dean is to be believed regarding no discrimination against the Asian-Americans, I would partially support the Harvard Admissions Process at least for its somewhat balanced process. I would, however, question the advantages given to some students from a racial or religious background during the scoring of the admission process.  This is something that needs to be looked at more carefully. Some of these people might not have money, resources, scholarships and opportunities for getting into an Ivy league but definitely not all. What do you think?






International Journal of Advanced Structural Engineering – Blog Post 3

My research field is Civil Structural Engineering. I found quite a few open access journals in my field and I chose to write about the most famous one – International Journal of Advanced Structural Engineering (IJASE). IJASE is a peer-reviewed open access journal published under the brand SpringerOpen in Heidelberg, Germany. The journal is published quarterly in both printed and online editions. It is associated with Islamic Azad University (Tehran, Iran) and is printed under the permission of the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The Journal is accredited by the Iranian Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology as Scientific-Research Journal.

The website (see below) clearly mentions the aim or scope which is “To provide a unique forum for the publication and rapid dissemination of original research on structural engineering”. It further goes on to mention “The articles are expected to make a significant contribution to the research and development activities of the academic and professional engineering community with the highest quality. All articles will be peer-reviewed in accordance with the Journal policies by the professional advisory editors”. I think the aims of the journal are well descriptive and very similar to the top journals in my field. They are targeting excellence, quality and significant contribution to the field of structural engineering.

The journal website provides a link for accessing all the 195 open access articles on their homepage. The articles can be downloaded as PDFs from anywhere in the world but the copyright remains with the authors.  All the articles published under Springer are readily available online after publication and free of cost to view and download. However, the author or the institution funding the research work is responsible for paying the Article Processing Charges (APCs) after the manuscript is submitted online. The journal popularity has increased since its inception in 2012. Springer is well aligned with the open access movement and considers “open access to research as essential in order to ensure the rapid and efficient communication of research findings”. As per SpringerOpen website – “The unrestricted distribution of research is especially important for authors (as their work gets seen by more people), readers (as they can access and build on the most recent work in the field) and funders (as the work they fund has a broader impact by being able to reach a wider audience)”.






The Evolving role of Technology in Higher Ed – Blog Post 4

I recently read two articles in “The Chronicle of Higher Education”. One of them supporting the use of technology in higher education and the other critical of it.

1st one was titled “Fighting to Reinvent Teaching and Keep Costs Down” and was authored by Dr. Carol A. Twigg who is the President and CEO of the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT).  She is an expert in the field of transformative technology in teaching and learning.

In the past couple of decades, there has been a great push for online education because of its cost-effectiveness and positive effect on learning. The article is really fascinating and she has been doing work in this field since the last 20 years. The sad part is that she has been facing resistance from all the sides on incorporating information technology in teaching and learning. As it is a known fact that humans naturally resist change, I am not surprised that she has been facing criticism at large.   For example, she along with her team at NCAT worked on redefining math courses as part of a $2.2 million project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It involved reconstructing 114 courses for 38 institutions. The redesigned courses cost around $161 per student as opposed to $400. Along with the reduced cost, students could work with interactive software in labs, get individual one on one help and get online modules to master. It definitely feels like online education is bringing about the necessary change. In my opinion and from my experience, it is effective and more helpful in learning as opposed to the traditional blackboard teaching. But, are we moving fast with this change? Should we research more about the different strategies to be applied? Well, the second article answers some of these questions.


2nd one was titled “Challenging Online Education to Prove Itself”. The article was authored by Mr. William G. Bowen, an economist and a former president of Princeton University.

He believes that the role of online education is increasing but this change should be guided by research and analysis. He is critical of this fast change. According to the research done by his team at Ithaka (a non-profit organization founded by him), the past research on the effectiveness of online education has loopholes. These researches are a result of small sample sizes, inadequate methodologies and the lack of good estimates for cost-effectiveness.  In a large sample randomized trial experiment conducted by Ithaka team on the comparison of partial online study courses and full classroom courses, it was found that this mix of online teaching is, in fact, effective and not destructive. Well, still Dr. Bowen believes that online education oversimplifies the course content sometimes which is not good. He is going to perform another study to test the effectiveness of massive open online courses (MOOC) which have been taken up by Harvard and UPenn very enthusiastically over the recent times. He still believes that there should be a thorough interrogation of online learning before jumping onto using it. In my opinion, it is good to conduct a randomized experiment trial as done by Dr. Bowen to remove any bias while checking any new technique. But, the question is “Is it worth the effort and money”? Some people think it is not and I agree with that. Previous studies at small-scales have shown that online learning is helpful and there is nothing wrong in accepting the change and trying it. Yes, if there is funding for a thorough study, it should be conducted but till that time the effort for change should not stop. What do you think? Should we wait for a more thorough study or keep trying something new?