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Warm Welcomes Attract Recruits to Johns Hopkins, Even in Blizzard Conditions

Thursday morning a few weeks ago, 30 of the most promising applicants to the Graduate Training Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine arrived on campus. They’d come from across the country and the world for two days of interviews, campus and city tours, exploring popular Charm City restaurants and bars. Behind the scenes, the students, faculty members and program administrators who organized this recruitment weekend were closely watching weather reports, as Winter Storm Jonas prepared to dump a foot of snow on Baltimore’s streets Friday night.

a street during a winter storm, lined with snow-covered cars

Baltimore streets during Winter Storm Jonas.
Image courtesy David Chu

As local airports began to close, Leslie Lichter and Colleen Graham, the program’s superhuman administrators, raced to reschedule travel plans and interviews. By Friday night, they had succeeded in giving each applicant a full experience of the graduate program — and a full slate of five faculty interviews — without leaving anyone stranded in Baltimore during the blizzard. Program director Rajini Rao even drove the last recruits to the airport herself for last-minute flights out of Baltimore.

That this herculean task was accomplished so smoothly speaks to the commitment of the program and also to years of hard-won experience. Because so many applicants travel long distances to attend recruitment weekend, the event can’t be rescheduled for weather. Previous years’ recruitments were held successfully amidst the Blizzard of 2003, 2010’s Snowmaggedon and a March snowstorm last year.

You might think that in such cases, the inclement weather and unexpected changes in plans would discourage recruits from joining the program. But anecdotal evidence suggests recruits have incredibly positive experiences during so-called blizzard recruiting events, and the program has data to back this up. Graham pooled statistics from the past decade of the harshest winter storms and found that acceptance of admission offers was on average 15 percent higher for weekends with extreme snow storms compared to the weekends with moderate weather in the same years.

Sneha Berry, a first-year student who was recruited during last year’s March blizzard, shares memories that shed light on this unusual correlation. During her recruitment, with the Johns Hopkins campus closed and 10 inches of snow fell on the roads, many faculty members were stuck at home. Instead of touring campus and meeting with researchers in their labs or offices, Berry and her fellow recruits stayed at their hotel, while five dedicated faculty members and a handful of students came to meet them. In contrast to a typical one-on-one admissions interview, the recruits were interviewed in pairs, which Berry says made the process more relaxed and less intimidating. “The faculty members didn’t have a chance to read our resumes or application essays, so we explained our research from the ground up.”

Meanwhile, senior students organized a snowball fight, board games and space for relaxed conversation. Sam Torquato, a second-year student who helped organize the snowed-in event, recalls the chaos behind the scenes, but also the fun and relaxed feel remarked on by the recruits. “They told me they were impressed that we pulled it off,” she says. “They had a great experience despite the weather, and that’s why they decided to come to Hopkins.”

Abena Kwaa was one such recruit, and she has now come full circle and helped organize recruitment during Winter Storm Jonas. As a recruit during the March 2015 blizzard, she says, “I was very impressed that first-year students who had exams the next week gave up their time to spend with us as prospectives.” She adds that this experience motivated her to contribute her own time during recruitments now that she is a student. The dedication of Kwaa, Berry and their classmates made this most recent recruitment a great success despite the weather, and they are looking forward to welcoming next year’s incoming class in August.