The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions recently held its inaugural Cross-Institutional Conference for the HSI Pathways to the Professoriate Program, a $5.1-million grant initiative sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that aims to diversify the professoriate by supporting 90 students at three Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) as they prepare to apply and matriculate into doctoral programs in the humanities.
Program fellows participate in a research-intensive summer seminar where they collaborate with faculty mentors to conduct their own research projects, study for the GRE, learn about theory and methods and hear from graduate students and faculty from around the nation about navigating graduate school. The Cross-Institutional Conference (CIC) brings the fellows together to present their research projects and participate in workshops intended to support their matriculation into doctoral programs and efforts to become faculty in the humanities.
The students in the program come from diverse backgrounds. We have international, first-generation and nontraditional college students. It was fascinating to hear them describe their journey into considering becoming a professor. Many of them had never thought about it until they were approached by a teacher who believed in them. Others’ passion for their intended graduate discipline developed when they saw their stories in the curriculum (via ethnic studies) or because they did not see their identities represented enough or at all within the fields in which they are most interested.
Last summer, our research team visited our HSI partner institutions: California State University at Northridge, Florida International University and the University of Texas at El Paso. During these campus visits, we interviewed the first cohort of the program – 10 students at each school – to learn more about their stories, their ambitions to become professors and how they were experiencing the program.
It was an incredible, emotional experience as we learned more about each of the students. We laughed, we cried and we extended ourselves as a support system to each student. Despite the worry of difficulty and feelings of loneliness that the students anticipate experiencing during graduate school, they were all excited to grow as scholars. We left each campus visit excited for the following spring, when all the students from the three HSIs would convene to present their research.
When we convened a couple of weeks ago, the scholars were truly fantastic! Although many of them were open about how nervous they were, they had gained a lot more self-confidence and did a phenomenal job presenting their work. With a weekend-long program consisting of 30 research presentations, three keynote speeches and several panels of graduate students, faculty, and administrators, the inaugural CIC demonstrated to me the importance of representation, intentionality and building a supportive, uplifting community.
Although academic in nature, I cannot deny how familial the conference turned out to be and how inspiring it was to witness the bonds forming between the fellows at each of our partner institutions. Studies ranged from coupling film and oral history to bring light to the destruction of a historic area in El Paso to discussing a qualitative study of how high school administrators can support their low-income students to contemplating cultural discourse around food in Latina literature. And regardless of the topic, everyone involved was engaged, curious and supportive, allowing all participants to grow as scholars.
Only several months ago, many of these students were excited about the prospects of entering a PhD program, but unsure that they were ready. Despite many of them admitting to knowing little about the process of applying to graduate school and the experiences of graduate students, their determination and support from the program and their HSI communities have shown us what an impact we can have if we truly invest in the holistic support of a student’s success.
We set up the program to help cover the financial barriers of applying to graduate school (exams, application fees, traveling to visit programs), paired fellows with faculty mentors and partnered with some of the most dedicated partners at each of the HSIs – people who truly care for all their students. Most of the fellows are second-semester seniors at their institutions, and many are in the midst of deciding what graduate programs to attend. They attribute their success to the support they are receiving through the program.
Imagine what could happen if this type of support were standard for all students.
Andrew Martinez is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and research associate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. His column appears in Diverse every other week. You can follow him on Twitter @Drewtle
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