U.Va. Participates With National Alliance in Expanding Diversity Among Faculty

July 2, 2009 — The numbers are growing and will have a great impact over time.

In an effort to attract more diverse students to graduate schools, the Leadership Alliance was created in 1992 at Brown University. It provides minority undergraduates a suite of programs offering mentoring, networking and funding for research opportunities.

The alliance's 33 member colleges and universities – including historically black colleges – pay a fee to join and host students from other schools in the summer. They collaborate on symposia and add specific initiatives based on evaluation. The alliance provides summer stipends to the students and follows them through their doctoral careers.

The University of Virginia joined the alliance three years ago when Cheryl Burgan Apprey was hired as director of Graduate Student Diversity Programs, an office created in response to a recommendation from the Commission on Diversity and Equity.

"The founders of the Leadership Alliance were motivated by their belief that talent resides in individuals from a range of backgrounds, and that investments in their development would yield leaders who reflect the dynamism that diversity brings to every endeavor," Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons wrote to the member schools last year.

This is the second summer that minority undergraduates have come to U.Va., which pays for their housing in the residence halls. Three students are studying at the Curry School of Education and three are conducting research in medical Ph.D. programs — biomedical engineering, molecular genetics and cell biology.

"We have a small program, but I think there'll be a big payoff," Apprey said. "We hope these students will apply to graduate school and be accepted into U.Va."

The students work with researcher-mentors and meet other minority students in summer programs at U.Va., such as the Foreign Language Institute. A social event last month brought together about 70 students across Grounds for ice cream and networking.

They not only learn the details of the research process, but also have the opportunity to design their own projects. Some take workshops on related topics, including applying to graduate schools or preparing work for publication.

The ultimate goal is for students underrepresented in academic and other fields to pursue these careers – to become professors or professionals in business or the public sector. A more diverse faculty will make a broader impact and influence other students of color, Apprey said.

"I believe that the Leadership Alliance and the summer undergraduate research program will really help us in efforts to increase enrollment of students from historically underrepresented groups in Curry's graduate programs," said Stanley Trent, the Curry School's assistant dean for diversity and equity since 2007.

"Several of the students in this year's cohort have expressed interest in applying," he said. "I believe that over time, these programs will gain national prominence as pipeline opportunities to increase minority enrollment, and, better still, prepare a more diverse group of leaders to tackle the many obstacles we currently face in public education."

The Curry students are part of its Summer Undergraduate Research Program, funded by the Mellon Foundation.

Jasmine Abrams, a psychology major at Virginia State University in Petersburg, is working with assistant professor Nancy Deutsch on a presentation, "The Effects of a Mentoring-Based Program on the Ethnic Identity of College Women and Middle School Girls." Deutsch's research involves studying adolescent learning and development in order to create settings that better support youth, especially those at risk due to economic or sociocultural factors.

Participating in the program and working with Deutsch is helping Abrams acquire the tools and experience she will need to compete in the current academic climate and to succeed as a student at the graduate level, she said.

"The University of Virginia is … overflowing with opportunities for personal and professional growth," Abrams said. "I am grateful to be a part of the rigorous academic climate here, and l am excited about completing my research project with Dr. Nancy Deutsch.

"After I establish myself as an educator and a researcher, I would like to open a community center for young African-American females. My center will help individuals reach their full potential in life by promoting education, leadership, service, positive values, mental health and physical health. It is my ultimate goal, to not only achieve my full potential but to be the conduit through which others achieve their dreams as well."

Kelly Minor, a psychology major at Georgia State University in Atlanta, is working with Joanna Lee, assistant professor in the Curry School's Department of Leadership, Foundations & Policy. Along with learning how to conduct educational research, Minor is developing her own research project, "Academic Expectations and Values Among Low-Income Youth."

"I have been reading research that relates to racial, ethnic and cultural identities and trying to find studies where all three have been researched together. I am getting a new picture of how identity can be studied in a multi-dimensional way," said Minor, who plans to become an education professor.

"Joanna has also worked with the Education Longitudinal Study and is helping me to create an individual project for the Leadership Alliance Symposium using this data set.

"I have learned so much already, including two new statistical programs, and will continue to get practice in other areas of completing a research project as I move through the process. Additionally, because Joanna has allowed me to include my own research interests in my work here, I am also preparing for future research," she said.

Minor said she is enjoying her U.Va. experience, working with Curry professors and learning about the work of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, which Curry Dean Robert Pianta founded several years ago.

"The knowledge and opportunities that everyone here has passed to the SURP students is amazing. I am grateful to be a part of this program, to see the beautiful campus and to work with these amazing people that I would not have even met otherwise."

She said the Curry School has made her feel so welcome, it has confirmed her decision to apply there for graduate school.

She and the other students in the program will get a chance to practice presenting their research at a luncheon July 22, near the end of 10- or 12-week sessions.

At its yearly symposium in 2008, the Leadership Alliance celebrated the success of its first 100 students who earned Ph.D.s and M.D./ Ph.D.s. In its first decade, the alliance had accepted 1,000 students into summer research programs; in the next six years, that number doubled.

U.Va. hosted the April 2009 business meeting, where alliance members developed a strategic plan for the next decade that will be finalized this fall. Goals include sustained institutional commitments to diversity, continued growth in scholars' networks, informed contributions to the educational policy arena and responses to national and global workforce and professional needs.

— By Anne Bromley