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Igniting diverse scholars' interest in William & Mary

  • Improving her delivery
    Improving her delivery  Chelsi Florence, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of California, Davis, offered a draft of her dissertation during the university's IGNITE program before receiving tips on how to make it more effective.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Chelsi Florence, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of California, Davis, had just finished presenting an embryonic version of her dissertation “Standing at the Intersection: Examining the Quest for the American Dream among Middle Class Black Mothers.” In it she read quotations, several of them lengthy, from women she had interviewed regarding what they thought were the challenges of educating their children.

After about 40 minutes, her audience of one – Bob Belle, a senior consultant for the Southern Region Education Board – congratulated her on a job well done. Then Belle asked if she had recorded her interviews with the women.

“Yes,” Florence said.

“One of the things you might consider at some point when you are presenting this is to think about taking some of those comments … I think hearing them has a different impact,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, okay, but I think in terms of making your presentation more powerful that can do that.”

Florence beamed, and seemed visibly relieved to hear Belle’s advice.

“Thank you,” she said. “One of my problems has been how to present interview data.”

It was just a small exchange in what would be hundreds of exchanges that took place during the three days of William & Mary’s foray into diversifying faculty. But it was precisely the type of thing Fanchon Glover, the university’s chief diversity officer, had hoped to offer when she invited 10 scholars from across the country to visit the campus on an all-expenses-paid visit.

“Several years ago, we wanted to have a program to add to our recruitment efforts for diversifying our faculty,” Glover M.Ed. '90, Ed.D. '99 said.Dr. Bob Belle

Last fall, Glover attended the annual Southern Region Education Board Doctoral Scholars recruitment fair in Northern Virginia, where about 1,500 minority scholars gathered. She distributed a questionnaire asking whether those present would be interested in attending a William & Mary program to prepare future faculty. From those who applied for the inaugural program called IGNITE, the first cohort of 10 scholars were selected to attend the March 24-26 event.

“IGNITE’s mission is to introduce William & Mary to scholars who will soon be entering the professoriate,” she said. “The program was designed to offer workshops led by our faculty, provide an opportunity to network with faculty, staff, and students and give a job talk on their research! This is really a grow-the-faculty pipeline for scholars of color. It doesn’t happen overnight. We’re investing in the future of higher education.”

During their stay, the selectees heard from Belle, former director of the Office of Federal TRIO Programs for the U.S. Department of Education and the SREB Doctoral Scholars  Program, deliver a keynote address. They then participated in a “life values inventory” with W&M’s Kelly Crace, associate vice president for health and wellness, a workshop on job searching conducted by Ann Marie Stock, vice-provost for academic and faculty affairs, a “road to tenure” workshop featuring many faculty members, and additional sessions on job seeking.

The experience was mutually inspiring.

“W&M has been enriched by this talented group,” said Stock. “The name of the initiative, IGNITE, sums it up: they have sparked our learning and inspired our interest in a variety of perspectives and experiences.”

“It was a privilege to meet so many talented scholars and teachers and to host them here at William & Mary,” said English Department Chair Suzanne Raitt. “Our conversation about negotiating faculty offers was wide-ranging and inspiring. I would love to see some of these amazing people return to William & Mary in the future.”

Whether or not they turn to W&M when it is time to seek employment, as Associate Professor of History Adrienne Petty said, the program “gave them one-on-one exposure to faculty and administrators here, and wisdom that will benefit them wherever they land, though I’m sure they left with a wonderful sense that William & Mary is the place to be.”

The participants echoed those thoughts.

“I came here nervous and anxious about my professional future, and I left with insight, feedback, affirmation and a rich addition to my network,” said Alexis Little of Ohio State University, a Ph.D. candidate in Education Policy. “I am refueled and ready to finish my program strong and well-informed.”

Florence described the program as “intense, but so rewarding, so enjoyable, so worth it,” and complimented the staff, faculty and community leaders who appeared.

“I met so many amazing scholars at William & Mary and in my cohort,” she said. “This is the first program in a long time that made me feel valued.”