The Virginia Tech graduate school recently hosted students and faculty from 15 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority serving institutions (MSIs) from as close as Virginia and North Carolina and as far away as Texas and Florida for a research summit.
The event provided opportunities for Virginia Tech faculty and administrators to meet and partner with faculty from the visiting institutions on a wide range of research proposals and projects. Undergraduate students learned more about Virginia Tech and attended several workshops to help them prepare to apply to graduate programs. They also received frank and insightful information from Virginia Tech graduate students who earned undergraduate degrees at historically Black colleges and universities before coming to Virginia Tech.
Visiting institutions included Bethune-Cookman University, of Daytona Beach, Fla.; Delaware State University; Florida A&M University; Hampton University. Norfolk State University; Virginia State University; Elizabeth City State University; North Carolina A&T University; Prairie View A&M University; Texas Southern University; and Morgan State University of Maryland.
Shernita Lee, assistant dean and director of the Office of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion, said several Virginia Tech colleges, departments, and research centers provided workshops and presentations. The Center for Communicating Science broke the ice on the first day with several activities, and six students associated with the center gave lightning talks during the research showcase, which was followed by a poster session. The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences’ Juneteenth Scholars also discussed their work.
The program included sessions for faculty devoted to grant-writing, finding funding for proposals, working collaboratively across institutions, and equity, diversity, and inclusion in graduate research and education.
“Each year the summit is strategically planned and organized by an engaged planning committee to add insightful schedule components for both faculty and student attendees’” Lee said. “No two years are the same as we continue to refine the summit to meet the evolving needs of the participants and to make the programming more inclusive to serve all of the colleges.”
Virginia Tech graduate students who all earned their undergraduate degrees at historically Black colleges and universities spoke on a panel that served as one of the more popular events of the summit. Lee noted that this year the panel featured eight students with degrees from at least eight institutions. A few had also earned master’s degrees from historically black colleges and universities.
“We are so fortunate to have wonderful graduate students eager to share candid responses to the audience about their transition to Virginia Tech and to offer other advice’” said Lee.
Several of the Virginia Tech students said being on the panel was a privilege.
“Not too long ago I was in their seats,” said Jatia Mills, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical and veterinary sciences who earned her undergraduate degree at Morgan State University. “I used to dream of being able to one day have the knowledge of my mentors and, like them, to share with those students coming up behind me. Being able to provide minority undergraduates information that can help them to one day surpass me assures that I am on the right path.”
Larry Luster, a second-year doctoral student in chemical engineering from Montgomery, Alabama, earned his bachelor’s degree at Hampton University and attended the 2019 summit. He said being a panelist this year was about giving back.
“Representation matters, and being able to ask sometimes tough questions to someone who looks like you and has had similar experiences is an opportunity that is invaluable when trying to make connections and decide your next steps,” Luster said.
They were joined on the panel by Audra Barnes, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering who earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida A&M University; Carlos Posada, a graduate student in chemistry who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and another bachelor’s degree from Fayetteville State University; Tyana Scott, a master’s degree student in biomedical engineering who earned her bachelor’s degree at North Carolina A&T State University, Tarisa Ross, a Ph.D. student in geosciences with a bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a master’s degree from North Carolina Central University; Joseph Sturgess, a doctoral student in engineering education with a bachelor’s degree from Tuskegee University and a master’s degree from Fisk University; and Arogeanae Brown, a Ph.D. student in agricultural, leadership, and community education who earned a bachelor’s degree from Virginia State University and a master’s degree from Virginia Tech. Tremayne Waller, director of graduate student programs for the College of Engineering, was the moderator.
Scott also attended a research summit at Virginia Tech as an undergraduate and said the experience influenced her decision to pursue a graduate degree. She found the panel to be particularly helpful. “Just talking to students who are in a position of where you intend to be one day can be insightful,” she said. “You are able to get answers from a perspective to which you can closely relate.”
Panelists answered a wide range of questions, from how to find community on campus to how to work with mentors and advisors and how to handle difficult situations. They provided tips, insights, and examples from their own experiences, including information about housing, funding, and extracurricular activities.
Luster said several students asked about how to say no and how to manage their time. He said these are difficult concerns for most graduate students that can be tougher for students “who may struggle with issues like imposter syndrome, perfectionism, or feeling the need to prove themselves.” He said all the panelists did a fine job of assuring the students that they did not need to prove themselves, that they were admitted for a reason, and that they have to keep their own well-being in mind.