U Launches Program to Encourage Success of African-American Doctoral Students

By Emily Anderson

Many African-American students at predominantly white schools like the University of Utah struggle to establish a network of support to see them through their studies. To close the gap, the U launched the African-American Doctoral Scholars Initiative.

The first-of-its-kind initiative strives to help students grow by giving them opportunities to conduct research and present at conferences. Participants will also receive help with grant writing and their dissertations, as well as a $5,000 scholarship. Deniece Dortch, the manager of the program, believes that expanding students’ experience in teaching, presenting and writing will help to jump-start their careers.

“Most doctoral students are really only prepared to do about one-third of their job. They’re prepared to conduct research,” said Dortch.

Students in the program will have access to both faculty and alumni African-American mentors from their field. Among the mentors are the initiative’s developers – William Smith, Paula Smith, Karen Johnson and Laurence Parker.

Parker said he feels the initiative will allow students to make connections beyond their traditional advisors.

“It’s support, both academically and socially, around their professional engagements with their particular disciplines, and also to encourage a lot of interdisciplinary work for students who are engaged in the study of black lives in the United States,” said Parker.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 13,000 black students were awarded doctorate degrees in 2014, compared with more than 110,000 white students. Dortch hopes the program will raise the number of black students receiving doctorate degrees – at least at the U.

“We really want students to understand that this is a place that African-American students can not only survive but thrive,” said Dortch.

To qualify, applicants must be an American citizen, self-identify as African-American, maintain a 3.0 GPA and be a full-time student at the U either currently enrolled or recently-accepted to a doctoral program. The initiative also asks that students demonstrate an interest in understanding black life, history and culture in the U.S.. Applications were closed Friday. Next academic year, the initiative can sponsor ten students, a number that Dortch anticipates will rise in coming years as funding increases.

As the program works to expand they’re budget, they are also recruiting more African-American mentors to increase the scope of success.

“We want students to be able to rely on us, especially if they’re the only black person in their department or their program,” said Dortch. “We want them to know that they’re not alone.”

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