U of M summer institute preps students of color for grad school

Nearly 30 new University of Minnesota graduate students are finishing a seven-week orientation program to better acclimate them to campus before their classes start this fall. “It is a boot camp,” says Dr. Noro Andriamanalina, director of academic and professional development for the school’s Office for Diversity in Graduate Education.

Abdi Warfa Charles Hallman/MSR News

Andriamanalina, also director of the U’s Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) summer institute, says that 26 of the 28-member group are Black or another person of color — the largest such class since the program started in 1998.

According to the 2014 Survey of Earned Doctorates, there has been a 70 percent increase in the number of doctorates awarded to Blacks in all fields over the past 20 years — from four percent in 1994 to 6.4 percent in 2014.

A further data breakdown shows the top fields percentage-wise where Blacks receive doctorates: education research (22.8), education administration (13.3), business management and administration (11.2), health sciences (11.4), social sciences (10.6) and communication (8.2).

Dr. Abdi Warfa, a biological science professor in his first faculty year at Minnesota, gives advice to the DOVE students, such as having a good mentor who will guide them both professionally and personally during their academic time at the school.

“I got my Ph.D. from here” in four years, says Warfa, who adds that the average for science is five years. “I came back here to do research and do less teaching” as opposed to his former teaching position at Metro State University in St. Paul.

“What I really wanted to see is the importance of building a portfolio on what they want to do after they graduate,” says Warfa. “Often they think their [graduate] work can change the world, and it is a nice feeling, but at the same time, it’s unlikely to have that impact [while they are in school]. So I wanted to give them advice to use this opportunity.”

Suzanne Cade
Suzanne Cade Charles Hallman/MSR News

“I think this program is excellent,” says Suzanne Cade of Tuskegee, Alabama, who begins her first year this fall in her doctorate program: comparative and international development education. “I am still developing my professional goals” with the possibility of working with the U.S. Department of Education, the United Nations, or another country’s educational ministry after she earns her degree.

Cade earned a B.A. degree in English at Tuskegee (2009), then an M.A. in international education policy at Harvard (2010). “I worked for a few years after I graduated from Harvard” in admissions at Tuskegee and in an adult education program. “I wanted to understand education from a different perspective, so I joined Teach for America in Alabama teaching middle-school students [2013-15]. I wanted to come back to the classroom, but as a student, to sharpen my scholarship and research skills and develop more as a scholar.

“The preparation I received at Tuskegee University was an important foundation. [It] prepared me as a student, as an aspiring scholar, and was so supportive. I feel like the preparation helped me be the student that was prepared to enter graduate school whether it was at Harvard or at the University of Minnesota. It helped me as a researcher…when I chose to study abroad where there I was a minority. It has stayed with me throughout my academic career.”

A colleague from Harvard and former ‘U’ student “highly recommended” the school, continues Cade. “That really got me to look into the international development education program a little bit closer. I visited the school and felt a warm welcome, really enjoyed the reception, the faculty and the students. It was a very supportive atmosphere here. I knew it was the school for me.”

The DOVE program is unique, she notes. “I have been in summer programs before, [but this is] a different type of program because it focuses on establishing a community and also providing us information and resource and support systems to be successful throughout the graduate experience.”

Warfa says he wants to strongly urge Black graduate students to not only get their degrees but to pursue teaching opportunities as well “so we can see the diversity in the classroom. When I teach a class, so many African American students come to me and say, ‘It’s nice to see [a Black professor].’ Not all of them are going into academia, [but] we want to encourage these students to be in the classroom.”

“I am looking forward to the [fall] semester,” declares Cade. “The summer institute is very supportive. I really appreciate that we get to practice our research this summer, but to also have seminars that are structured and directly relate to the needs of the graduate student.”

Cade says she is eager to “learn from other scholars. I feel honored to have this opportunity and look forward to being in the Ph.D. program.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.