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The Johns Hopkins School of Education launches a new summer program to prepare students from historically marginalized communities for non-STEM PhD programs.

Navigating a post-baccalaureate academic path is difficult for any student, and it can be especially difficult for students from historically marginalized communities.

Although studies have shown that applications for PhD programs for underrepresented groups have increased in recent years, data also show that fewer students from historically marginalized groups complete PhD programs than their peers from more privileged backgrounds.

Researchers say the reasons are varied: structural barriers, students’ lack of familiarity with the graduate landscape, a lack of social support once these students arrive on campus, and inadequate financial resources, to name a few. These obstacles can hinder many qualified students from pursuing graduate programs and from feeling connected to their work once accepted.

“When we think about those students who don’t complete their graduate studies, most of it is not academic ability,” says Johns Hopkins School of Education Professor Norma Day-Vines, who serves as the school’s associate dean for diversity and faculty development. “It’s about the obstacles they encounter on the way to degree completion.” The issue then, is not one of a candidate’s qualifications, but may often be attributed to the lack of support provided to candidates as they embark upon and pursue advanced degrees.

Rectifying that lack of support is the inspiration for Post-bac/graduate Research Edification & Preparedness for PhD in Education, or the PREPPEd program, one of six projects funded by the Hopkins Pathways to PhD Programs Initiative.

An outgrowth of the university’s Second JHU Roadmap on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,the initiative aims to support the university’s vision of itself as a pluralistic community that embraces the values and imperatives of diversity, equity, and inclusion as integral to its mission.

The roadmap consists of 24 goals in six areas, including specific goals for graduate students such as eliminating barriers and helping candidates of graduate programs confidently face the challenges of higher education. PREPPEd works toward this goal by aiming to demystify the PhD experience and provide students with the academic, financial, emotional, and career-support skills needed to complete a doctoral program.

PREPPEd is different from many PhD prep programs in its focus on non-STEM disciplines. Historically, pipeline programs have funneled scholars into science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines, often failing to fund initiatives aiming to increase enrollment in the humanities. In 2021, Johns Hopkins launched the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative (VTSI), a $150 million effort to recruit underrepresented students into STEM PhD programs. Building on that effort, the university then created a $5 million PhD Pathways Innovation Fund to seed projects aimed at increasing diversity in non-STEM PhD programs.

At the School of Education, PREPPEd is a six-week summer mentoring program in ethnic minority research that will provide advanced undergraduate and post-bac/graduate students with the requisite skills in education research to gain doctoral studies admission. Ten students will be accepted, and the 2023 session will run from June 12 through July 21, on Homewood campus, in Baltimore.

Over six weeks, School of Education researchers Rebecca Cruz, Richard Lofton, and Marc L. Stein will lead the scholars in research- and culture-based outings throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. They also will share research methods and examine contemporary issues in education related to inequality.

As part of the program, summer scholars will complete GRE preparation, participate in a statistics boot camp, and receive one-on-one mentoring in completing their doctoral program applications. Each scholar will receive a $575 weekly stipend, with housing included for the six-week program.

Day-Vines says she hopes that this initiative “creates innovative, well-mentored, sustainable pathways programs in non-STEM fields to contribute to the excellence and diversity of JHU PhD programs across the university.”

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