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UTEP Fellows Conclude Intensive Summer Training

Last Updated on July 29, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Originally published July 29, 2019

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

A cohort of a national program created to increase the number of Hispanic professors in the humanities recently concluded an intensive summer session at The University of Texas at El Paso that left participants eager to continue their academic journeys this fall.

The 10 fellows of the HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institutions) Pathways to the Professoriate finished their six-week program earlier this summer. This is the last cohort of the pathways program that started in 2014 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI). Photo: J.R. Hernandez / UTEP Communications
Johanna M. Lopez Velador, a second-year doctoral student in history at the University of Iowa, shared some advice on how to navigate a doctoral journey with members of The University of Texas at El Paso's HSI Pathways to the Professoriate Cohort 3 in early July 2019 in Old Main. Lopez earned her bachelor's degrees in history and Chicano studies from UTEP in 2018. Photo: J.R. Hernandez / UTEP Communications

The 10 fellows of the HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institutions) Pathways to the Professoriate finished their six-week program with a series of research presentations July 2-3, 2019, in the Blumberg Auditorium on the first floor of the University Library.

The presentations were like a celebration as each of the eight women and two men of Cohort 3 shared what they had studied in the fields of history, art history, philosophy, anthropology, and English and American Literature with the audience made up of peers, family and faculty mentors. Organizers scheduled this activity to foreshadow their next scheduled presentations at the Cross Institutional Conference in spring 2020 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

David Castillo, senior history major, spoke about various aspects tied to the Bosnian conflict of the early 1990s during his 20-minute presentation. He said the main thing he felt afterward was pride and excitement in a job well done. The son of two Miner alumni said he was grateful to be part of the program because it helped him grow.

“Believe in yourself,” the Los Angeles-area native said as he recalled a few of the important lessons that the program stressed. “Be positive about who you are and what you know. Trust that you can accomplish what you set out to do.”

This is the last cohort of the pathways program that started in 2014 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI). The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded the five-year program with a $5.1 million grant. The collaboration involved eight partner institutions to include three HSIs: UTEP, Florida International University and California State University, Northridge. This summer, the center moved to Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education. The center hoped its efforts could boost numbers of minority professors.

The National Center for Education Statistics stated that in fall 2016 approximately 5% of full-time faculty at degree-granting postsecondary institutions were Hispanic. At the same time, Hispanics made up almost 18% of the country’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means that the Hispanic students in higher education – about 40 percent who are first-generation college students – often do not see Hispanics as academic role models in their classrooms. Things are different at UTEP where 38% of the institution’s faculty – and 44% of humanities and social sciences faculty – are Hispanic, according to figures provided by UTEP’s Center for Institutional Evaluation, Research and Planning.

UTEP faculty members promoted the program throughout the fall 2018 semester and selected the cohort members from applicants who were rising juniors at the end of the year. The fellows, who earned a stipend and lived in the Miner Canyon student housing complex, had a busy spring 2019 semester that included monthly sessions with their faculty mentors where they developed academic and professional skills, received related research support, and prepared for their GRE (Graduate Record Examination), which institutions use to assess graduate school applications.

The summer session, which started in late May, focused on independent research, confidence and communication, work on their doctoral applications, and graduate-level courses and seminars that exposed them to useful theories.

Faculty mentors and guest speakers also have shared other important insights for the application process. For example, some talked about site-visit decorum, and how to network with professors and establish contacts.

“I’ve gotten so many amazing pieces of advice that will help me navigate a doctoral program,” said Castillo, who plans to be a university history professor. “I learned so much during this session that has made me less nervous. I cherish it all.”

The fellows will use part of their fall 2019 semester to visit some of the country’s major academic research institutions, and finish their applications, which they must submit in December. In the spring, they will present their research at the Cross Institutional Conference along with students from the other HSIs. Around the same time, the doctoral programs will respond to the fellows’ applications. All should earn their bachelor’s degrees in spring 2020.

The overall program has placed all fellows who have applied to graduate school into top graduate programs in the humanities, said Paola “Lola” Esmieu, director for programs and strategy at the Rutgers CMSI. In UTEP’s case, higher education research institutions in Texas, Iowa, Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Mississippi have accepted its pathways graduates.

“The program has provided the students with the skills and tools to apply for graduate school and helped to give them increased confidence,” Esmieu said.

The program generates assurance and a better prepared applicant, said Ruben Espinosa, Ph.D., associate professor of English and UTEP’s HSI Pathways site coordinator. He said it offers them a nurturing, judgement-free environment.

“We try to teach our fellows how to survive graduate school,” Espinosa said. “That ranges from the necessary technical skills to produce sophisticated research papers to soft skills such as how to traverse work/social situations. We have workshops to strategize and de-mystify the graduate experience to include how and when to ask for help.”

Organizers scheduled social gatherings so fellows can practice how to act in these settings, which can be uncomfortable, especially when they could be the only minority in the room. The mentors encourage the students to listen, engage in conversation and be confident about speaking about themselves.

Among the program’s guest speakers was Johanna M. Lopez Velador, who earned her bachelor’s degrees in history and Chicano studies at UTEP in 2018. She was part of the program’s Cohort 1 and will start the second year of her doctoral program in history at the University of Iowa in fall 2019.

“The first thing I had to do when I got my acceptance letter from the University of Iowa was to find Iowa on a map,” Lopez said, which drew some laughs.

Lopez offered several tips on how to find the best doctoral match. She suggested the fellows attend conferences to find which institutions have established faculty researchers whose work mirrors their interests. She also recommended that they settle on at least a few universities where they may want to attend before they take the GRE because the testing agency will send results to up to four institutions as part of the test fee. Lastly, she advised that they study the college’s level of interest in underrepresented students because it will help as they negotiate a financial package.

“It’s not just what you’ve done and where you’ve gone,” Lopez said. “They want diversity.”

Lopez also added that they would need to get tough to deal with academic and social comments that their peers and professors might direct at them knowingly and unknowingly. She said that as one of her department’s few minorities some presume she is an expert about race, class, culture and the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

“You have to learn how to protect yourself in those conversations,” Lopez said.