By Deane Morrison
Every summer, some of the U’s best and brightest entering graduate students gather on campus for seven weeks to get their feet wet in the world they will inhabit full time come fall.
These future scholars, teachers, and leaders have made the U’s Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) Summer Institute (SI) program a resounding success since its inception in fall 1998. This year’s crop of 29 graduate students are building networks of support across the U through work with a faculty mentor, developing a research topic, and attending weekly seminars on communicating with faculty and proposal writing. Along with such essentials as getting acclimated to the Twin cities and their department culture and learning where to find all kinds of resources.
“Part of what we’re doing is creating the space where diverse experiences can merge,” says Summer Institute Director Noro Adriamanalina, director of academics and professional development in the Office for Diversity in Graduate Education (ODGE). “It’s a place where anybody with something weighing heavily on their heart can come and share.”
That has already happened to this year’s cohort. The fatal July 6 shooting of a black motorist by a white police officer near the U’s St. Paul campus hit home with them.
“Some are coming to the St. Paul campus,” Adriamanalina notes. “A one-hour discussion [after the shooting] turned into two hours. We need a community where students can talk about their fears.”
Supporting future superstars
The institute considers for admission any entering graduate student of color nominated by their U graduate program. Also, anyone with an ODGE Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) fellowship is automatically admitted. Departments in every college with a mix of undergrad and grad students have taken part, with the majority from CLA and CEHD, where the majority of students of color enroll. Taking part means not only nominating candidates, but supporting them with a summer stipend.
This is a bumper year for the institute, whose 29 participants shatter the previous attendance record of 21. Among them is Suzanne Cade, a doctoral student in Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development (CEHD) with a Harvard M.Ed degree and three years’ experience teaching middle school in Alabama through the Teach for America corps.
“One word I would use to describe the DOVE Summer Institute is supportive,” says Cade, who is researching the disparity in educational attainment between students of color and those of European descent in Minnesota this summer. “The warm welcome to the University of Minnesota by faculty, staff, students, and alumni, coupled with the structured seminars, has provided a supportive atmosphere for me as an incoming Ph.D. student.”
“Not many schools have [such a] comprehensive program,” Adriamanalina adds. “We’re pioneers.”
And not only comprehensive, but effective. A study for the Bush Foundation, which supported COSP from fall 1998 through summer 2004, found that institute attendees over five summers (1999-2003) made progress toward a degree at a rate that put them essentially a year ahead of their peers.
Besides preparing a final paper and presentation on their projects, every grad student in the Summer Institute is required to mentor junior high students the following spring—an experience most seem to consider more delight than duty. Some even answer, “I want to serve as a mentor to junior high students” to a question on the institute’s application form about why they are applying.
Relationships they form during their first spring as U graduate students often lead SI alumni to re-up for another semester, if not longer.
Frank Valdes, an incoming grad student in neuroscience, says he was amazed by the friendliness and openness of his DOVE cohort.
“We all come from different backgrounds and academic fields, so I’ll get a window into a bunch of topics I have a great interest in, like American studies, political science, human rights, conservation sciences, and creative writing, but don’t have the time to pursue academically,” he says.
Valdes, who just graduated from the University of Arizona, is working with Karen Echeverri in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development. She studies the axolotl, a Mexican salamander that doesn’t grow lungs and move to land, but retains gills, and a strictly aquatic lifestyle in adulthood.
“Her lab specializes in … the mechanisms driving regeneration in axolotls, who [can] grow back limbs, organs, and other complete structures,” says Valdes.
Already he’s learned—“most importantly”—how to survive our winters: “It turns out I have to retire my flip-flops pretty soon here.”