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Faculty-led Research Experiences

Mentoring is a critical part of the Spelman experience. Skill development workshops help students find their career path and understand how the intersecting roles of race and gender may impact their careers.

Along with the Undergraduate Research Initiative, Spelman has several long-standing, research programs with faculty-led experiences that prepare underrepresented students to pursue research careers or be more competitive for doctoral programs, such as the Howard Hughes Research Program and RISE, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health. The goal of the RISE program is to increase diversity in biomedical and behavioral research.

Research is also an essential part of the UNCF/Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. Launched in 1989, the program is designed to increase diversity among College faculty by preparing undergraduates at UNCF institutions for graduate school in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Spelman's Social Justice Program

Student-Faculty Relationships Develop and Grow at Spelman

UNCF/Mellon fellows are paired with faculty mentors who engage them in their own research projects and guide their independent research experiences during the academic year as well as during summer at top research institutions across the country. To date, the program has produced 106 doctorate recipients, 26 of whom are Spelman graduates, said Cynthia Spence, Ph.D., C’78, UNCF/Mellon national director, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, and director of the Social Justice Fellows Program at Spelman.

“The success of these students is directly related to their undergraduate research experiences,” said Dr. Spence of the UNCF/Mellon fellows. “The small number of graduate school spaces for students requires them to present very strong undergraduate research experiences in addition to excellent GPAs and GRE scores.”

Dr. Spence also is campus liaison of the Leadership Alliance at Spelman, a national consortium of more than 30 colleges and universities committed to train, mentor and inspire a diverse group of students into competitive graduate training programs and professional research-based careers in the biological, physical and social sciences and the humanities.

Mentoring is a critical part of the Spelman experience. Skill development workshops help students find their career path and understand how the intersecting roles of race and gender may impact their careers.

Access to a 'Village of Mentors'

Janina JeffDr. Jeff attributes her success to her “village” of mentors, including Kimberly Jackson, Ph.D., Spelman chair and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who encouraged her to pursue the doctoral program at Vanderbilt. Now she gives back by mentoring students and supporting organizations that expose young students to STEM opportunities.

While speaking to science and psychology majors at Spelman’s annual RISE Retreat at Callaway Gardens in March, Dr. Jeff discussed overcoming challenges while successfully navigating a STEM career with few people who look like them. Also, she encouraged them to find their passion and realize their unique experiences and perspectives are necessary to address global issues.

“When it comes to medicine, people of color are terrified and have a lack of trust in research. It’s not just people of color in America, but around the world,” Dr. Jeff said. “One very important part of rebuilding that trust is seeing people doing research who look like you and who you trust with your data to do the right thing for the community and not just for their financial gain.”

Opportunities to Explore and Research Black Female Agency

Hadiya JonesAs a dual English and sociology major and UNCF/Mellon Mays Fellow at Spelman, Hadiya Jones, C’2015, developed several research projects focused on how women of color navigate their identities through virtual spaces. Her interest in this topic started the summer after her first year with her love of Issa Rae’s YouTube series, “The Misadventures of the Awkward Black Girl.”

That summer, Jones had the opportunity to further explore the topic through an independent content analysis of the web series’ first season during a Leadership Alliance program at the University of Chicago, under the guidance of UChicago associate English professor and director of Undergraduate Studies Adrienne Brown, Ph.D.

Jones continued the work throughout her undergraduate years at Spelman. In 2015, her final paper, “Resisting the Matrix: Black Female Agency in Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl,” was published in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Journal, with the help of a team of mentors, including Spelman faculty members Dr. Spence, associate professor of English and director of Honors Program Tarshia Stanley, Ph.D.; English professors Donna Akiba Harper, Ph.D., and Patricia Ventura, Ph.D.; and former Princeton University English professor Valerie Smith, Ph.D.

Now in the second year of her sociology doctoral program at Princeton, Jones mentors undergraduate researchers as part of her goal to strengthen the college-to-graduate school pipeline for underrepresented students.

I would advise Spelman students to participate in research opportunities as much as possible,” said Jones, who aspires to be a college professor.

“My undergraduate experiences helped me in seeing the scholarship in my research interests, as well as beginning to learn and understand what it means to situate your work within larger conversations in the field. If Dr. Spence would not have recommended the Leadership Alliance program to me or exposed me to the UNCF/Mellon Mays Program, I may not be in graduate school today. The scholar I am today is greatly influenced by and through my engagement with professors at Spelman.”

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Spelman Messenger Fall 2017