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Students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities Gain Immersive Introduction to Graduate School

Students at a Summer Institute writing workshop, having conversations and sitting at tables with papers on them.

UW–Madison’s School of Human Ecology Hosts Inaugural Equity & Justice Summer Institute

The diverse areas of study within Human Ecology have long intersected in a shared focus on improving opportunities and experiences for youth and families, particularly those who are underrepresented and underserved in our communities.

The latest example of this in action is the School of Human Ecology’s Equity & Justice Summer Institute, which hosts a cohort of rising juniors and seniors from Historically Black College and University (HBCU) partner institutions for an immersive introduction to graduate level education.

The inaugural program, held in June 2022, welcomed nine undergraduate students from Elizabeth City State University, Johnson C. Smith University, and North Carolina A&T State University.

The Equity & Justice Summer Institute 2022 participants gather with their faculty advisers and Human Ecology faculty who guided them throughout the week’s activities. Photo: Rosie Yang Photography

Nominated by faculty members at their home institutions, this group of outstanding students were selected to receive a trip to the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, including airfare, lodging, meals, stipend, and program costs.

During their five-day visit, the students met with Human Ecology faculty, graduate students and academic leaders, and participated in tours, talks and workshops covering topics such as:

  • Why pursue a graduate degree?
  • Identifying your research interests statements
  • Writing your research statement
  • Making the most of your graduate school education
  • Paying for graduate school
Career Services Director Alicia Hazen (right) shares insights during the Making the Most of Your Graduate School Education panel discussion. Faculty and staff participants shared their professional journeys, answered questions, and provided advice. (Also pictured: Dr, Alvin Thomas (left) and Dr. Carolee Dodge Francis (center)). Photo: Rosie Yang Photography

They also enjoyed field trip and site visits, including:

  • Milwaukee’s Sherman Phoenix and Victory Garden Initiative
  • Dr. Kendra Alexander’s (North Carolina A&T) Nia Project, a collaboration with UW Extension, in Waukesha, WI
  • Campus walking lecture on Land, Loss, and Legacy: American Indians and the University of Wisconsin with Dr. Kasey Keeler, Assistant Professor, Civil Society & Community Studies; American Indian Studies; School of Human Ecology, UW–Madison
11 people standing spread out looking around at the outdoor children's playground. Red tricycles are in the background and chalk drawings are on the walls.
The Summer Institute group tours the playground of the Child Development Lab at the School of Human Ecology.

Criminal Justice/Psychology student Caylah (Elizabeth City State University) had planned to pursue a law degree but is now considering how a human-centric graduate education could provide a broader understanding of the relationships, systems and experiences that influence those in our justice system.

Social Work Student Skyla (North Carolina A&T) gained an understanding of what it takes to pursue a graduate degree as well as concepts new to her, like the “hidden curriculum” of graduate school.

Digital Media Arts student Caya (Elizabeth City State University) expressed interest in the opportunity to combine design and media and to “explore fashion as a language.”

All the students spoke highly of the opportunity to meet with Human Ecology faculty and graduate students in individual and small group settings.

Cayla smiles while working during the Writing Your Research Statement workshop. This hands-on workshop helped students begin formulating research statements for graduate applications. Photo: Rosie Yang Photography

Dr. Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, was one of about a dozen School of Human Ecology faculty who met with the students during their visit.

“It was exciting to hear the students develop their scholarly interests over the course of our workshop and to continue the conversations in our one-on-one meetings,” says Dr. Halpern-Meekin. “Their passion for issues that are important to them was great to hear.”

Dr. Kendra Alexander, Assistant Professor, North Carolina A&T State University, accompanied several of her social work students on the trip and said they are “seeing the value of a Human Ecology interdisciplinary approach and will become ambassadors,” because of this experience. Dr. Alexander was a faculty member at UW–Madison’s School of Human Ecology in the Dept. of Civil Society and Community Studies until 2016 when she returned to teach at her alma mater, North Carolina A&T State University.

Erika Gonzales (PhD student, Human Development & Family Studies) works with summer institute participant Dednika during the Writing Your Research Statement workshop. Photo: Rosie Yang Photography

In addition to Dr. Alexander, Dr. Ruth Greene of Johnson City State University and Dr. Andre Stevenson of Elizabeth City State University also nominated and joined students from their respective institutions. During their visit, the three faculty mentors also engaged with UW–Madison faculty on strategies to build stronger relationships among HBCUs and UW–Madison.

The experience was remarkable, and my students are more excited about graduate education than ever before,” says Andre P. Stevenson, PhD, MPH, MSW, Professor of Social Work, Elizabeth City State University. “We are grateful to the administrators, faculty, staff, and students in the School of Human Ecology for hosting such a dynamic and informative inaugural Summer Institute. We look forward to participating in the future, and having our students apply for admission to the School.”

“Our students were excited about the diversity and scope of the curriculum, internship opportunities, and faculty in the School of Human Ecology,” says Dr. Ruth L. Greene, O’Herron Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Johnson C. Smith, and the McNair Scholars Program Faculty Research Supervisor. “The workshops were comprehensive and covered knowledge critical to being a competitive candidate for graduate school admission,” she says. A former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Extramural Associate, Dr. Greene added, “Particularly exciting for students was the interaction in individual and small group discussions with University of Wisconsin faculty to learn about their research and how it might interface with student’s research. It was a well-planned and executed graduate school visitation.”

Two students from UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology – Santhia Brandt and Milly Timm – also took part in the Summer Institute experience as part of their roles as intern and student liaison with the School’s Equity & Justice Network.

The Summer Institute is a key step forward, according to Professor and Associate Dean Dr. Janean Dilworth-Bart, who leads the Equity and Justice Network for the School of Human Ecology.

“Our aim is to help create academic pathways for traditionally underrepresented students so they can see the feasibility of pursuing a graduate education,” says Dilworth-Bart.

A group of 5 people sitting at a table in conversation.
Professor and Associate Dean Dr. Janean Dilworth-Bart smiles during a conversation with visiting faculty mentors and UW–Madison faculty.

One of the strategic priorities for the School of Human Ecology is to foster inclusive and equitable learning and work practices to ensure that our school is accessible, welcoming and effective for all.

“We are grateful to our generous donors who fund our Summer Institute and help advance our diversity, equity, and inclusion goal,” says Dean Shim. “We could not take these steps forward without their vision and investment.”

Thanks to all who made this experience possible! We are already looking forward to the next edition.