On Thursday, April 15, 2021, Emanuela Kucik, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and co-director of the Africana studies program, and Giancarlo Cuadra, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, hosted a Zoom information session for Muhlenberg’s newly minted “Graduate School Preparatory Program for Students from Underrepresented Backgrounds.” The program is currently in its fledgling stages, recruiting for its first ever cohorts and set to begin during the Fall 2021 semester.
During the information session, Kucik and Cuadra introduced themselves and spoke about their own graduate school journeys before outlining the threefold aims of the program: helping students from underrepresented backgrounds successfully apply to graduate school, allowing said students to succeed once in graduate school and “to expand the definition of ‘success’ in the phrase ‘successfully apply to/complete these programs’ to include not only academic success, but also complete health — mental, emotional, and physical health… and happiness!” as Kucik and Cuadra outlined in a written statement to the Weekly.
The program was inspired by a want to expand the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the College, as well as by the Ronald McNair Scholars Program, a federal initiative at 151 institutions to prepare students from underrepresented backgrounds for Ph.D. programs in particular.
“The graduate school process can be daunting, and yet Dr. Kucik and Dr. Cuadra have developed a remarkable program which will provide a caring and inspiring environment to foster and support student ambitions.”
The program’s name is also not yet finalized, with Kucik and Cuadra stating, “We are currently reviewing the names of various alumni from underrepresented groups who worked to enhance the experiences of students of color and other marginalized groups on campus. Various members of the faculty and staff have so helpfully provided us with names and information about these alumni, and we are reviewing them all.” It seems that one lucky alum will be picked to be the namesake of this prep program.
The program seeks to assist students through a variety of means. The first is organizing the students into class-year cohorts that will attend seminars together on subjects such as identifying programs, building application materials, and finding funding. The second relies on matching students with faculty and staff advisors that can either speak to the types of programs they’d like to apply to or those advisors who might be able to speak to the students’ underrepresented backgrounds in higher education. During the session, 32 staff advisors were introduced, ranging from visiting lecturers to professors across departments to administrators at the College, and Cuadra and Kucik noted that their numbers are still growing. The final outlined support offered to students is small-group pairings among students themselves to allow for peer editing and partnership amongst the program’s members.
Elizabeth Nathanson, associate professor of media and communication, said of her involvement as an advisor, “I am thrilled to join the committee of faculty and staff who will work with underrepresented students as they embark on their graduate school journeys. The graduate school process can be daunting, and yet Dr. Kucik and Dr. Cuadra have developed a remarkable program which will provide a caring and inspiring environment to foster and support student ambitions.”
Housed jointly in the Africana studies program, the Career Center and the Office of Multicultural Life, this program will reach across multiple fields to assist students. On how the Career Center will contribute, Samantha Hof, director of employment engagement, said, “As part of this program, the Career Center aims to provide information sessions and workshops about topics related to the graduate school process from identifying programs to preparing for applications, interviews, or planning what to do in a gap year. We will help students get connected to alumni who have had similar experiences or pursued programs of interest to students. Finally, we plan to engage various graduate schools, experts on funding, and other external groups to provide resources and broaden connections.”
“Based on the information session, I’m really excited to see where this program goes!”
As for who should apply, Kucik and Cuadra emphasized the broad definition of underrepresented backgrounds with a non-comprehensive list of included students, saying “[It is] a category that includes, but is not limited to, the following groups: “Students of color — including Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Multi-racial and other self-identified students of color; students from low-income backgrounds; students with disabilities, which includes any physical or mental conditions that have affected your experiences; students from immigrant backgrounds; LGBTQIA+ students; women in STEM fields; underrepresented religious groups; students in Continuing Studies/students who will be pursuing graduate school later in life; students at the intersections of these and other identities; and a broad array of other groups.” In addition, this program is meant for students who have advanced beyond their first year.
After attending the information session, Celeste Samson ‘22 said, “Based on the information session, I’m really excited to see where this program goes! I’m not sure about grad school yet, but it’s extremely reassuring to know that the faculty contributing to this program care about students like me!”
On how they see the program growing, Kucik and Cuadra said, “We hope to be able to admit more and more students over the years while maintaining our commitment to providing students with individualized, personally-tailored assistance. We also hope to be able to continue to welcome our incredible colleagues onto the Committee to allow our net of assistance for students to be as wide as possible. Once we begin the Program, we will get a better sense of student needs, which will allow us to more specifically tailor our goals for growth.”Application information was sent out via email, with applications due May 21, 2021 by 11:59 p.m. Emails with questions can be sent to Kucik and Cuadra.