New scholarship for grads aims to increase diversity in some fields

Alicia Balog

Gary “Tré” Myers said he’s always wanted to not only learn why people do what they do but also create methods to improve their interpersonal relationships. However, after attending several American Sociology Association conferences in the past four years, Myers can only remember meeting two or three other African-American sociologists like himself.

Myers said a small portion of African-Americans become professors in his discipline, and an even fewer pursue what he wants to do.

But when he applied to Kent State this past year and was accepted into the sociology program, he got more than he expected — a $5,000 scholarship.

“It made me feel that Kent [State] wanted me,” he said. “Kent [State] was not thinking, ‘Well we have other people we might be able to replace you with.’ It was more like Kent [State] had decided to come after me.”

Myers was one of 11 graduate students who received the Graduate Dean’s Award, offered for the first time this fall. The scholarship, distributed over two years, is given to students who are underrepresented — whether that be in terms of their ethnicity, race or gender — in their respective disciplines.

Myers said he met the other recipients at a luncheon and never once felt out of place.

“It’s just the idea of knowing these students are experiencing similar experiences,” he said. “That’s comforting in itself.”

Dana Pugh, another scholarship recipient pursuing his doctorate in clinical psychology, is a black male in a field dominated by white females. His mind had already been made up about attending Kent State. Upon receiving the award, he said it was “icing on an otherwise already delicious cake.”

“It allowed me to know … I wasn’t alone,” Pugh said. “It was just a wonderful, wonderful group of people. All so very talented in all pretty similar or very similar situations, and it was just wonderful.”

Mary Stephens, dean of Graduate Studies, said the purpose of the award is to increase the diversity of the university.

“One of the things we really want to do is to be putting out masters and doctoral-prepared graduates who can contribute to the diversity of their disciplinary fields,” Stephens said. “So it’s simply not for the diversity of the student population at Kent State, but for the diversity of the disciplines that we are contributing to through our graduates.”

Myers said the award is not a repair-all but a good incentive to start fixing a social problem.

“Diversity is crucial to any good program and we need to figure out ways to achieve diversity,” Myers said.

Katheryn McAnulty, director of Graduate Student Services, alongside Stephens, visited other graduate schools to observe what those schools enacted to increase diversity. They then drafted the Graduate Dean’s Award and received feedback from a committee of associate deans from each academic college. After revising it, they put it into effect for the Fall 2012 semester.

Departments nominated the recipients, Stephens said, by making the case on how they could add diversity to their programs and assuring a full-time, two-year assistantship.

Stephens said they were originally going to offer 10 awards but had an outstanding 11th applicant.

“We really just arbitrarily decided on 10,” she said. “The fact that we were able to get 11 was very gratifying.”

Cadey Korson, a doctoral student in geography, said she was surprised when she received the award.

“The award is really about creating greater diversity within your particular field,” Korson said. “Although I know the ratio of women to men in geography is somewhat one-sided, I don’t really think about myself as a female geographer — if that makes sense. So it was really neat that the department believed in me enough and … submitted me for the award.”

Sandra Najar is working towards her doctorate in translation studies. She said her field is not a very well-known profession in the U.S. and that the majority of the other graduate students in the program are not from the U.S.

“In the program currently, there [are] only two Americans,” Najar said. “Everyone is either from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ukraine, Russia, China and France.”

Myers said this year’s award-winners will offer guidance and mentor the next year’s recipients.

“You may know what’s coming but you really don’t know what’s coming,” he said. “But when somebody is there to say, ‘Hey, I thought the same thing you did,’ or ‘When I experienced it, it’s exactly like how you experienced it,’ it alleviates a lot of your stress and a lot of your anxiety. Ultimately it makes you feel less alone.”

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].