SlideRoom frequently receives inquiries from High School teachers and counselors asking how they can help creative students showcase their skills as they are applying to college. The following letter is one example:
At this year's NACAC conference, we hosted a panel discussion about the growing importance of portfolios within admissions. While art schools have always asked for artifacts of achievement, STEM fields are beginning to experiement with this admissions practice. We asked representatives from MIT and Carnegie Mellon to share some lessons they have learned over the past few years. The themes that emerged included logistics, evaluation, and the general motivation behind recognizing creativity in all fields.
Over the past decade, portfolios have become a standard part of the application process at many institutions of higher education. Schools of all sizes and selectivity rates use portfolios, but others have been holding back because of concerns about how to incorporate portfolio review into their application and evaluation process.
We're excited to introduce our new blog for discussing education, technology and design. SlideRoom is part of Learning Machine's enrollment management toolset, so topical posts will be presented there from time to time. Meanwhile, product updates will continue to be placed here. We're interested in contributing to the larger conversation about the importance learning through making and helping institutions achieve change through better data and technology choices.
Many schools are beginning to accept STEM portfolios during the admissions process. Yale, MIT, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, and others have made a place for projects demonstrating technical creativity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. About 60% of of those applicants submit designs and videos of apps they've made, so one of the most requested features has been to review corresponding code from Github.
Making is the core of how we learn, solve problems, and arrive at new ideas. It is the cornerstone of innovation and any country’s most precious resource.
In 2014, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recommended more universities and colleges consider implementing a Maker Portfolio in their admissions process as part of a larger effort to expand opportunities for “making” within school campuses. Over 150 schools issued a joint letter to the President committing to this initiative in various ways.
When Sabrina Pasterski was applying for undergraduate admissions, she was rejected by Harvard and waitlisted by MIT … until they saw a video of her building an airplane. Due to Sabrina’s persistence, this video was eventually seen by Professors Allen Haggerty and Earll Murman who strongly advocated for her. “Our mouths were hanging open after we looked at it,” Haggerty said. “Her potential is off the charts.” She was ultimately accepted by MIT, and later graduated with a perfect GPA of 5.0.
Introducing portfolios into the STEM culture of admissions can be challenging, particularly when those departments place such strong emphasis on test-taking. Of course, stories like Sabrina Pasterski’s and the White House's Nation of Makers initiative remind us that identifying a minimum entrance threshold is very different from looking at what applicants have made and finding out what’s truly special about them.
MIT’s culture of making continues to expose how real-world projects seldom live within one distinct domain of knowledge. The practice of moving between disciplines and shifting perspectives creates new kinds of creative momentum — a learning ability MIT is looking for within their admissions process. The illustration above is a representation of their poly-math ethos, by Neri Oxman, published in MIT's Journal of Design.
In August 2013, MIT made news by adding Maker Portfolios as an option within undergraduate application to help identify “technical creativity and skill.” A little over two years later, they published a report, co-authored by Chris Peterson and Hal Abelson, discussing the data gathered during that time period:
“In many respects, the Maker Portfolio has been a resounding success. Over the last two years, more than 2000 students have used it to show us the things they make, from surfboards to solar cells, code to cosplay, prosthetics to particle accelerators. We believe the Maker Portfolio has improved our assessment of these applicants and offers us a competitive advantage over our peers who have not developed the processes to identify and evaluate this kind of talent.”
In a separate survey cited in their public letter to the President Obama, 78% of their undergraduate population reported that MIT’s reputation for being maker-friendly made them more likely to enroll.