Reflections on ELEVATE and Faculty Development at MSIs


Taryn Ozuna Allen

This past June, the two of us had the opportunity to join 16 other early-career scholars from MSIs across the country as members of the inaugural class for Enriching Learning, Enhancing Visibility, and Training Educators (ELEVATE), a faculty fellowship program offered by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI). An intensive and empowering three-day professional development conference, ELEVATE offered workshops, seminars, and networking opportunities designed to improve our chances for earning tenure at our respective MSIs.


Michael Steven Williams

Whether by reliving a pleasant experience, or avoiding previous mistakes, reflection is a powerful tool that serves many purposes. The goal of this particular reflection is to share our takeaways from ELEVATE with hopes of helping anyone and everyone interested in early-career faculty success, especially for faculty of color and MSI faculty who might not have the same institutional resources as others.


As researchers with a shared interest in examining how a sense of belonging helps students succeed at all levels of education, we noticed how important this concept was to the ELEVATE program. The director, staff, and students at the CMSI were warm, welcoming, and accommodating even before we arrived in Philadelphia. Indeed, the atmosphere for the entire program could be best described as familial. Though each of the fellows hailed from different institutions, regions, and academic disciplines, connecting across difference was easy because everyone felt like they belonged. These feelings of connection have already extended beyond our time together in Philadelphia, and many of the scholars have already made plans to collaborate and otherwise uplift each other.


Earning tenure is a long and challenging process, especially for those with fewer resources such as faculty at MSIs. But there are many paths to success—some more adventurous than others. Don’t discount your experience just because someone else makes their journey look easier, more exciting, or cooler. Appreciate what you are doing, and celebrate what you have accomplished! As early-career faculty, it is important to focus on your own path and take care of yourself on the journey to tenure. Think about your writing goals for each semester and year but also think about your personal goals. Consider the things that bring you joy and peace and include them in your calendar. Everyone has the same amount of time each day, each week, each month, and each year. The trick is making sure you use your time in ways that are productive, engaging, and restorative. Don’t say you don’t have time for things! Instead make time to do the things that are important to you!


Maintaining balance between your work and personal responsibilities is a day-to-day and moment-to-moment endeavor. Balance is also relative. What it means for your life can change from semester to semester and year to year. As new responsibilities arrive, it is important to carefully consider what you can and cannot do. Honest reflection about your current commitments, priorities, and work capacity can help you regroup, rebalance, and simplify things when you are feeling overwhelmed. Communication is also essential to balance. Clear communication with family and friends (e.g., sharing information about an approaching deadline that may limit your availability) can help manage expectations and make it easier to navigate temporarily challenging situations.


We’ve all heard horror stories about collaboration. Some show little respect for deadlines and contribute low-quality work if they finally get around to turning something in. Despite these unfortunate possibilities, strong collaborations can lower stress, facilitate productivity, and enhance the quality of scholarship. The key is selectively and deliberately choosing people to collaborate with. The best collaborations are built on trust and mutual respect, and these partnerships flourish when individuals submit high-quality contributions in the agreed-upon timeframe. They also benefit when each team member is willing and able to take the lead on different projects. This can improve the number and variety of projects at different stages of completion, so the collective research program is always progressing. However, it is also important to acknowledge that life happens. If you or your collaborators anticipate falling short on an obligation, then it is important to let the whole team know as soon as possible, so everyone is informed and can adjust accordingly. Choosing collaborators with good communication skills, complementary values, and a similar work ethic can make working together a joy.

We want to offer our sincere thanks to Paola ‘Lola’ Esmieu for developing and implementing such a great event. A special thank you goes to all of the amazing ELEVATE mentors—Marybeth Gasman, Andrew Arroyo, Tim Fong, Dina Maramba, Anne-Marie Nuñez, Robert T. Palmer, Alice Ginsberg, Kent Wallace, Caleph Wilson—for sharing their wisdom and advice. Although we are early-career faculty of color that work at Minority Serving Institutions, we expect the tools and tips that resonated with us to help early-career faculty at any institution. The lessons we learned were immediately applicable to our personal and professional lives.

Taryn Ozuna Allen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington (an HSI).

Michael Steven Williams is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, City University of New York (an AANAPISI).

Supporting Trauma Victims Could Lower Attrition Rates at HBCUs


Larry Walker

Experiencing a traumatic event can have a long-term impact on a student’s academic performance. Exposure to trauma contributes to mental health and anxiety disorders including depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which prevent students from completing simple tasks such as attending class. Of course, it is vital to ensure that all students struggling with a prior or recent traumatic event have access to counselors, but it is important to remember that African-Americans from underserved backgrounds are more likely than Whites to have exposure to trauma. In addition, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) educate a higher percentage of students from underserved backgrounds in comparison to predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Yet, because of funding disparities between PWIs and HBCUs, declining enrollment, and smaller endowments, HBCUs struggle to provide services to students from disadvantaged communities. HBCUs’ inability to provide therapeutic support services for survivors of trauma may very well impact student attrition rates.

The majority of research on HBCUs and student attrition rates focuses on measures including school readiness, family household income and support, peer relationships and school climate. However, a recent study by Boyraz, Horne, Owens and Armstrong (2013) found that African-American students’ exposure to trauma also negatively impacted their likelihood to return to school. Their findings are significant for HBCUs because these colleges and universities enroll a disproportionate number of African-American students, and those students are more likely to be exposed to trauma. For example, a study examining the relationship between trauma and academic performance for students at a HBCU found that participants were exposed to a variety of crime- and physical-related traumas including robberies and assaults. Investigating the relationship between trauma and academic performance would add to the overall body of research on HBCUs.

Ensuring students from underserved backgrounds have access to comprehensive mental health services could mediate traumas’ impact on academic performance. Unfortunately, African-Americans rarely seek support for trauma because (1) they have a general mistrust of the health care system, (2) there are stigmas associated with mental health, and (3) there is limited access to mental health services within underserved communities. For HBCUs, destigmatizing mental health will require coordinating with local, state, and federal agencies. Working with public health officials could help HBCUs combat micro issues that are unique to the African-American community.

Although HBCUs face unique challenges regarding mental health, many postsecondary institutions throughout the United States are struggling to identify students in need of mental health services. Over the last few months Appalachian State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tulane University had students die from suicide. These unfortunate deaths have forced postsecondary institutions to carefully reexamine the role counseling centers play in the lives of undergraduate and graduate students. Ensuring counseling centers have a robust budget is critical to providing assistance to vulnerable populations. However, in comparison to large PWIs, HBCUs may not have the resources to counsel students from underserved backgrounds.

HBCU administrators will have to adopt a cost effective approach to ensure students have access to therapeutic services. This should include a campus-wide acknowledgment of mental health issues that emphasizes counseling for those who need it and destigmatization to ensure students are comfortable pursuing treatment. Implementing school-wide initiatives can also help schools address specific issues. For instance, Spelman College eliminated their intercollegiate athletics program to develop a comprehensive student wellness program. While not all HBCUs should not consider eliminating their athletic programs, the Spelman initiative highlights the importance of developing a holistic approach to learning that emphasizes health first and foremost.

HBCUs have to support the academic and emotional needs of African-American students. This should include adopting proactive approaches that challenge conventional thinking. For example, Paul Quinn College announced a new school/work model, which will allow students to earn real work experiences and eliminate unnecessary student debt. Paul Quinn’s new initiative could become a model for HBCUs throughout the United States. Similarly, developing a template that includes support for trauma could counter environmental factors that impact student attrition rates.

Throughout their history HBCUs have overcome a variety of economic and political obstacles. Despite the unique challenges they face, African-American students can benefit from attending institutions with a focus on shared responsibility and cultural awareness. However, HBCUs have to adapt to ensure they remain competitive with institutions of similar size. HBCUs should develop policies that meet the unique social and emotional needs of new and returning students. Trauma can have a short and long-term impact on the lives of at risk populations, and without comprehensive support, debilitating mental health problems could prevent students from completing their postsecondary education.

Larry J. Walker is a Research Fellow in the School of Graduate Studies at Morgan State University.