supporting the academic and psychosocial experiences of historically marginalized doctoral students

The McNair Program and its Positive Influence on Success for Underrepresented Doctoral Students

Research indicates multiple levels of support are needed to facilitate doctoral degree attainment for historically marginalized students.  National, state, local, and organizational efforts are necessary to stem attrition and build communities that embrace academic achievement for students of color.  A long-standing national effort supporting students of color is the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement program.  Named after the second African American to fly in space, McNair, with a PhD in laser physics, orbited the earth 122 times in a space shuttle mission and is the model for a program emphasizing doctoral degree completion for first-generation, low-income students.  With outcomes for exposure to graduate level academic activities to increase attainment of the PHD, McNair is essential to increasing doctoral degree production in the United States.

Beyond a student’s academic capacity, McNair values the process of making meaning of a one’s potential to be a well-rounded scholar.  To support students from underrepresented backgrounds, members of the McNair community oftentimes see beyond mainstream aspects of the doctoral experience.  For instance, creating spaces to support racially and culturally-based research interests that are meaningful to a student’s identity and research interests involves finding opportunities in institutional spaces where racially and culturally relevant ideas are not be readily apparent.

McNair Scholars benefit from a vast network of researchers, practitioners, and scholars who provide both academic and psycho-social support.  This is helpful since many students bring valuable levels of emotional intelligence with them based on their experiences.  However, managing it may require different skill sets; and drawing on a diverse network mentors is essential to supporting differences among a variety of disciplinary experiences.  In addition to providing these layers of support, McNair creates spaces that illustrate successful transitions from doctoral study into careers emphasizing specific disciplinary interests.  Oftentimes historically marginalized students don’t benefit from the protection afforded by supportive legacies of inclusion where thriving intellectually and culturally is a norm.  Thus, engaging with mentors who have experience in their careers and disciplines, serves to build cultural wealth and sustain programmatic activities to support scholarly engagement within their intellectual communities.

The contribution McNair makes to supporting doctoral degree completion fori historically marginalized students is invaluable.  It represents a critical layer of addressing a multi-faceted system of exclusion for underrepresented populations regarding their participation in higher education.  Furthermore, McNair represents the promise of potential in strengthening our nation by way doctoral degree completion; bringing to bear one of Dr. McNair’s well known quotes: “Whether or not you reach your goal in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them.  You’re eagles!  Stretch your wings and fly to the sky.” Preparation, motivation, and determination are driving forces of the program facilitating academic success, degree completion and transition into the academic profession and other careers.

More information about Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Programs throughout the United States can be found here:  https://mcnairscholars.com/regional-and-state-associations-2/


Ronald McNair

Celebrating Caribbean Scholarship and Service

Recently, music icon Rhianna was honored by Harvard University for her humanitarian efforts in her native country of Barbados.  Her service supports critical ongoing medical research on the island and a long-standing interest in giving back to her community.  In addition to celebrating Rhianna’s philanthropic generosity and enormous talent, we thought it’s important to highlight other Caribbean natives who are making tremendous contributions in representing the Caribbean through their work and service.  Check out three (3) important West Indian natives whose work exemplifies academic excellence as well as the importance of advocacy for historically marginalized populations.

Sir Hilary Beckles

Dr. Beckles is a historian and Vice-Chancellor of the University of West Indies.   He’s a chief advocate and champion for the cause for reparations for historically marginalized persons in the Caribbean and all over the world.  Among his call for investment and expansion in education, healthcare, social services, his stance on reparatory justice brings attention to critical historical incidents that provide insight to understanding grave systemic inequities.  More about his work can be found here: https://www.uwi.edu/VCBiography.asp

Sir Hilary Beckles discusses his work on reparations:


Carol Boyce-Davies

You may have seen Dr. Carol Boyce-Davies on a panel with Angela Davis, or mentoring youth at a forum on equal rights for women.  She is the Frantz Fanon Lifetime Award Winner of the Caribbean Philosophical Association, former president of the Caribbean Studies Association, and prolific advocate of marginalized women and our experiences in her publications Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migrations of the Subject (Routledge, 1994) and Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones (Duke University Press, 2008). As a proud Trinidadian native and graduate of University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Howard University, she’s a staunch proponent of historically Black colleges and universities and an excellent example of how HBCU graduates transition to graduate school and the professoriate. More about Dr. Boyce-Davies prolific scholarship can be found here:  http://caroleboycedavies.com/about/

Carol Boyce-Davies sharing perspectives on Black consciousness:


Shakeba Foster

Jamaica represents an impressive history of Rhodes Scholars; check out the registry.  Shakeba Foster joins the list of Caribbean natives whose brilliance will provide valuable scholarship in a variety of academic disciplines.  As the youngest West Indian native on our list, Shakeba’s important work in economics represents the promising future for the academic pipeline leading towards doctoral degree completion.  To review more about Shakeba’s experience and background, check out this link to the Jamaican Information Service:   http://jis.gov.jm/shakeba-foster-2017-rhodes-scholar/

Continued appreciation of scholars of color who promote knowledge and scholarship about historically marginalized communities provides an opportunity to engage in the development of cultural wealth.  We are thankful for the ways their work uplifts our communities and creates models for pathways to success and prosperity.







Channeling #RESISTANCE in Tough Political Climates

As momentum builds to #RESIST a political climate that threatens the freedoms and rights of historically marginalized communities; we wanted to contribute to the growing resistance dialogue in support of doctoral students who are developing and managing their strategies to cope with racism and discrimination within the context of their academic and/or professional experiences. Organizational commitment is essential to social justice movements.  Here are eight organizations with expressed commitment to racial and cultural awareness, understanding, and agency.  As you make progress with any resistance efforts, we encourage you to review these websites and consider the various organizational approaches to representation of race and culture in recognition of diversity, inclusion, and excellence in research and practice.

  1. American Medical Association (AMA)
  1. American Counseling Association (ACA)
  1. American Sociological Association (ASA)
  1. American Psychological Association (APA)
  1. Council of International Education and Exchange (CIEE)
  1. American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
  1. Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM)
  1. American Educational Research Association (AERA)




8 Social Media Groups Supporting Women of Color


As the nation grapples with the transition of presidential leadership, millions of women marched in favor of social justice and equal rights on Saturday, January 21, 2017. Responses to the march flooded social media; some in solidarity, others in vehement opposition to the our nation’s new political leadership.  Many women on social media were concerned about the level of support for the march in comparison to organized support of social movements like #BlackLivesMatter and similar efforts addressing the long-standing racial and cultural inequities specifically related to the experiences of women of color. Despite efforts to unite women across racial and cultural lines, gaps still exist that provide spaces where women of color are validated.  Today’s post highlights 8 social media groups that are recognizing women of color in the academy.  While this is not an exhaustive list, it offers some guidance for historically marginalized doctoral students who may be interested in contributing to (and being part of) communities where activities celebrate women of color.  Please keep in mind that access to, and/or membership, for some of these groups requires approval from site administrators.  You are encouraged to check them out and lend your support!

8 Social Media Sites Supporting Women of Color in the Academy: 

  1.  Binders Full of Women of Color in Academia (Facebook).
  2. #CiteASista (https://twitter.com/citeasista).
  3. Move and Shake:  Academic Women Connecting the Journey (http://moveandshake.blogspot.com/2013/05/who-are-move-and-shake-women.html).
  4. National Association of Black Women Doctorates (also known as The Birth of an Association – Facebook).  This is an emerging group so check in often for new developments.
  5. Presumed Incompetent (https://www.facebook.com/PresumedIncompetent/).
  6. Sisters of the Academy (SOTA) (http://www.sistersoftheacademy.org/).
  7. The Supreme Love Project (http://jeaninestaples.com/coach/).
  8. WOC Academics in the Humanities (Facebook).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Representation in Doctoral Education

Today’s blog post celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and honors some facts about his representation as a doctoral degree holder in the United States.  Below is some important background information regarding his pursuit of the doctoral degree and the status of doctoral education during the mid-20th Century.

Dr. King received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1955 from Boston University in religion/theology from Crozer Theological Seminary.  His dissertation research focused on a comparison of the conception of God in the thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.  While pursuing his doctoral degree, during the final stages of his dissertation, he worked as a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where he requested support from church leaders (in the form of time allowance and travel expenses) to complete his doctoral studies.  In addition to Dr. King gaining practical relevant experience while pursuing doctoral studies, there are several other notable important facts about his scholarly experience in U.S. doctoral education as highlighted in a report of US Doctorates in 20th Century published by the National Science Foundation (2006):

  • King’s doctoral degree in religion/theology represents 1 of 5339 doctoral degrees conferred in this field between 1920 and 1999.
  • King’s academic experience as a Morehouse College Alumnus is significant and characteristic of the undergraduate preparation for Blacks/African Americans pursuing doctoral degrees in 1950’s (and representative of doctoral degree completion in decades that follow).  For instance, according to the National Science Foundation’s study of U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century, HBCUs occupied 33 of the top 50 positions on the list of baccalaureate institutions of U.S. black Ph.D.s who graduated between 1975 and 1999. Howard University, an HBCU, occupied the first position, by a wide margin, for both the periods 1975–99 and 1995–99. Forty-one percent of blacks who earned doctorates in the period 1975–99 received their bachelor’s degrees from among the 50 top-listed institutions.
  • While King received his baccalaureate degree from an HBCU, his doctoral degree experience at Boston University is unique; veering away from traditional HBCU institutional paths toward doctoral degree completion.
  • King was a member of a small cohort (1 of 7) of doctoral degree completers who would receive a Nobel Peace Prize for peace. A look at Nobel Prize winners during the 20th century illustrates the value of the U.S. doctoral system and the lasting influences of its graduates. Between 1901 and 1999, 162 Americans with doctorates from U.S. universities received 164 Nobel Prizes: 57 prizes for physics, 41 for chemistry, 34 for physiology or medicine, 25 for economics, and 7 for peace.

In addition to the tremendous impact Dr. King made on civil rights and social justice in the world, it’s important to consider how his research as a doctoral student shaped the development of his legacy and influence as a freedom fighter.  More about Dr. King’s dissertation and doctoral experience can be found here:



National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century, NSF 06-319, Lori Thurgood, Mary J. Golladay, and Susan T. Hill (Arlington, VA 2006).

Information written/compiled by Pamela Felder, Ph.D., Founder of #BlackDoctoratesMatter





Doctoral Degree Completion as a Key Factor in Academic Success

Today’s blog post highlights doctoral degree completion from the top 5 doctoral degree producing institutions for Blacks/African Americans in the United States who tend to enroll in doctoral programs focused on education, social sciences, and the humanities.  In 2015, The National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates reports the field of education represents the highest number of doctoral degrees conferred upon Black/African Americans. The list below represents the top 5 institutions producing Black/African American doctoral degree holders, the number of doctoral degrees conferred, and representative graduate schools (four out of the five are Schools of Education) from National Science Foundation survey results published in 2016. Considering doctoral degree completion is a critical factor to promoting academic success for historically marginalized doctoral students.  We must understand how/why they finish and implement strategies based on what we learn to develop programmatic efforts supporting career transition; particularly into the professoriate.  Check out these websites for more information!

List below is based on Table 9 of the Top 20 doctorate-granting institutions ranked by number of minority U.S. citizen and permanent resident doctorate recipients, by ethnicity and race of recipient: 5-year total, 2011–15, National Science Foundation (2016).

  1.  Walden University – Number of doctoral degrees conferred upon Black/African Americans, 682.  Graduate school website information:  https://www.waldenu.edu/about/colleges-schools/riley-college-of-education
  2. Howard University – Number of doctoral degrees conferred upon Black/African Americans, 354.  Graduate school website information: http://www.howard.edu/schooleducation/
  3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor – Number of doctoral degrees conferred upon Black/African Americans, 149.  Graduate school website information:  http://www.soe.umich.edu/
  4. Jackson State University – Number of doctoral degrees conferred upon Black/African Americans, 135.  Graduate school website information:  http://www.jsums.edu/education/
  5. Texas A & M University, College Station and Health Science Center – Number of doctoral degrees conferred upon Black/African Americans, 133.  Graduate school website information:  https://www.tamhsc.edu/

Doctorates awarded to minority U.S. citizens and permanent residents, by ethnicity, race and field of study, 2014 (National Science Foundation, 2015).


National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2015. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014. Special Report NSF 16-300. Arlington, VA. Available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16300/.

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2016. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2015. Special Report NSF 17-306. Arlington, VA. Available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17306/.



Information compiled by Pamela P. Felder, Associate Professor, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Founder of #BlackDoctoratesMatter


Celebrating Progress as the Work Continues

In the mid-90s when I was a doctoral student developing a qualitative study on the experiences of historically marginalized doctoral students, research in this area was almost unheard of.   Diversity work in higher education was just starting to build momentum in ways I hadn’t seen in previous years; serving to raise new questions about practices supporting students of color.  There were few folks interested in studying these issues.  As a historically marginalized doctoral student reading work in this area was enlightening.  For instance, I clung to Willie Grady & Hope’s book like it was gospel.  I look at this book now and the worn pages remind me of how much I cherished reading it back then.  It reminded me that someone cared enough to write about my experience in ways I didn’t see it represented in most of the literature I read.  To read a book about what I was experiencing as a doctoral student encouraged me to persist and informed me about what I wanted to study.  More than 20 years later research on the historically marginalized student communities continues to emerge and I’m encouraged to reflect on a few ways we’ve made progress in this work.

In the last 20 years the emergence of diversity research has served to increase our understanding of the racial and cultural aspects of doctoral student experience.  This work has great potential for telling institutions about the influence of their programs, academic cultures, legacies, and campus climates.    In considering Black/African American doctoral students, this work acknowledges our history and often reflects on student perceptions the doctoral process.  These perceptions are vital to supporting institutional goals where racially and culturally focused initiatives can thrive.  We must continue to examine statistical portraits on historically marginalized students and conduct more qualitative and mixed methods studies to identify aspects of the student experience that have been minimized, misunderstood, and forgotten.  Though we’ve made progress, we’ve only scratched the surface of this work.

During the last few years there has been a surge in social media groups devoted to building networks supporting the historically marginalized doctoral experience.  It’s been great to see the variety of support and its broad reach into many communities where no support may have existed otherwise.  Social media continues to be a formidable venue for supporting students in environments where programmatic efforts lack focus on valuing the racial and cultural aspects of student experience.  And, doctoral students themselves are able to use their social media identities to celebrate aspects of their experience that’s personalized.   As these efforts continue, I’m encouraged to think about how many students have benefitted from academic collaborations developed out of these networks and how these connections facilitate academic success.

Studying the doctoral experience has come a long way since I was in graduate school.   And, for those of us interested in strengthening support of doctoral students to better serve them, our institutions and communities, celebrating this progress is essential to recognize the value in the path leading us to where we are today.   As I continue with this work, I’m reminded of my student experience and hope this work inspires, uplifts, and encourages students, faculty, and institutional leaders to consider new ways for embracing the racial and cultural aspects of student experience.