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"Social Diversity: In one year, we've really scaled-up", says Marie Bresson, Diversity Delegate at l’X

Since the presentation of its report on social diversity in October 2019, L’X has strengthened its diversity task force and appointed a Diversity delegate. The school has implemented the recommendations of its report. Inspired by its origins in 1794, it will launch a vast awareness operation, Operation Monge, from January to March 2021.

A year after the release by Ecole Polytechnique of its report on the strengthening of social diversity within the School, Marie Bresson, Delegate for Diversity at the Ecole Polytechnique, takes stock of the School's achievements and prospects on this issue.

L’X submitted its report on strengthening social diversity within the company, what actions have been implemented and what are the initial results?

Marie Bresson - The report on social diversity in the engineering cycle of the School presented a plan to double the number of French scholarship students in the engineering cycle while respecting the requirements of excellence and fairness that have always prevailed since the creation of the School. Ten concrete measures have been proposed to achieve these objectives. Over the last twelve months, we have achieved very significant progress and scaled up despite the very challenging context of the covid-19 pandemic.

The report recommended to act on the access channels and in particular the university channel and to simplify access to previous exams papers with a dedicated Internet portal, what initiatives have been taken in this field?

M.B. - The promotion of the university stream during the fall and winter of 2019 with the first trips of X students to universities resulting in a 23% increase in the number of applicants. The first online oral preparation sessions for candidates in the university stream were organized in June 2020 and 100% of eligible candidates followed them, which considerably reduced the potential asymmetry of information between candidates.

We plan to increase the number of universities visited over the period from October 2020 to March 2021 with the ambition to increase the number of applicants from this field by a further 10%. Also to improve equality of opportunity and to allow all potential candidates to have the same quality of information to prepare for the entrance exams, we also published online more than 180 maths and physics oral tests and their corrections from the CPGE entrance exams. Finally, in March 2020, we formulated a proposal to maintain the 3/2 bonus points for 5/2 scholarship holders. On this point, a study by our supervisory ministry highlights a legal obstacle and we are considering it.

What have been the achievements in preparing and mentoring scholarship students?

M.B. - In July, we organized our first online Science Camp, the X-Science Camp@home, for high school students selected on social criteria and for their gifts for mathematics. Coming from many different places in France, 100 students entering preparatory classes and more than 200 others in high school benefited from courses adapted to their level, consisting of online activities of cultural openness, tutoring and discovery of scientific and technical professions.

After a preparation phase from March to September 2020, we are currently taking advantage of human training courses to have students from less priviledged backgrounds from 35 preparatory classes to France's elite higher education institutions or "grandes ecoles," (classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles, CPGE) mentored and tutored by students attending the 1st year of our engineering cycle. We will evaluate the results of this action during the spring of 2021 and to will adapt the list of CPGEs concerned accordingly.

We have also carried out an in-depth study for the creation of a propaedeutic class on the Institut polytechnique de Paris’ campus. This study highlighted the difficulties in recruiting the right student profiles and the questionable cost/benefit ratio that such a project could present. To meet these challenges, drawing on its experience during the Covid-19 pandemic, the School has laid the foundations for a hybrid digital-presential propaedeutic, in parallel with the last year in high school and the first year of the CPGE, which would make it possible to increase the number of beneficiaries and reach high school students all over the country.

What initiatives have been taken  regarding the third lever on which the report called for action, i.e. support for identifying and coaching young talent towards sciences ?

M.B. - The report set the very ambitious goal of raising awareness among more than 20,000 young people by 2022, compared to about 5,000 in 2019. All of our actions - Ile de France tutoring, online tutoring during confinement and Science Camp - have enabled us to reach young people in more than 300 high schools in 2020, a six-fold increase compared to 2019.

Above all, we are launching a vast operation from October 2020 to March 2021, Operation Monge, named after one of the founders of the Ecole Polytechnique, Gaspard Monge, who criss-crossed France during the founding year of l’X in 1794 to recruit the best students on the basis of their competence.

We had planned a first launch stage around the 11th November 2020 ceremonies in every part of the country and in the high schools, a stage that we unfortunately had to cancel following the second wave of the Covid-19 health crisis.  But this will not stop us! We aim to reach 700 high schools and 16,000 high school students with two interventions in high schools per first-year Polytechnique student from January to March to encourage young people to get involved in scientific fields and remove their doubts about their ability to access the most prestigious institutions

With the "X academic fellow" project mentioned in the report, the School proposes to create an integrated system of detection and monitoring of cohorts of young people from their first year in high school to their success in the entrance exams.

Finally, it should be noted that the study days organized at the Centre for Applied Mathematics (Centre de Mathématiques Appliquées, CMAP) and the Laurent Schwartz Center for Mathematics (Centre de Mathématiques Laurent Schwartz, CMLS) in January 2020, bringing together about forty participants, offered an opportunity for a first action to raise awareness among high school mathematics teachers. We are planning an online meeting between high school mathematics teachers, professors and students from l’X and representatives of the School's Diversity and Success Center in the first quarter of 2021 targeting 100 participants.

How do the School's actions to strengthen social diversity fit in with those of the other member schools of the Institut Polytechnique de Paris and what are the prospects in this area?

M.B. -The School has undertaken concrete actions in the area of equal opportunity with Telecom Paris and ENSTA, including tutoring actions during the confinement period and the Science Camp last July where Telecom Paris students worked as interns in the Diversity Success Center. This collaboration has increased the leverage effect of the actions undertaken, and the School, like its partners, therefore wishes to move forward on increasing synergies on social diversity and, more broadly, on all diversity issues at the Institut Polytechnique de Paris.

My special thanks to the Alumni and l’X Foundation for their commitment to our achievements this year. We are proud of our accomplishment over the last twelve months, and the School needs continued and increased support, both financially and in terms of human resources, to continue to make progress towards the ambitious goals announced in October 2019.