I first met Marybeth Gasman at a guest lecture at Beloit College in February 2014, where I first heard the term “Minority Serving Institutions.” I was amazed to learn there were institutions that catered specifically to minority students, especially since I was attending a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). As a result, I instantly became interested in MSIs. After hearing her lecture, I approached her to introduce myself and told her about my summer job in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—the same area where she had grown up. There was something radiant about her and I just wanted to keep talking to her. However, anyone who knows Marybeth knows how everyone gravitates towards her, so our conversation was brief since there were many other students waiting in line to talk to her.
As a McNair Scholar at Beloit College, I was in touch with a former McNair Scholar, Daniel Corral, who had previously interned at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI). When I learned he was going to intern with Marybeth, I was very excited for him because I had met her and knew he would thrive at the Center, especially with his involvement on campus. His opportunity got me thinking. I began to talk to my McNair Director, Dr. Nicole Truesdell and McNair Mentor, Dr. William (Bill) New, about my interest in working with Marybeth for my second summer in the program. Luckily, I had great people at Beloit who connected me with Marybeth, which led to my opportunity to intern at the Center this summer.
I arrived in Philadelphia this past June to start my eight-week internship. I jumped right in and started working on the Center’s weekly Monday Morning MSI Line Up and had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the Center’s inaugural Enriching Learning, Enhancing Visibility, and Training Educators (ELEVATE) program. Working at the Center while ELEVATE took place was the highlight of my internship, as it allowed me to meet early-career scholars working at MSIs from all over the nation. Preparing for the event, meeting the scholars, and being able to hear their personal experiences about working at an MSI was amazing since I got a first-hand experience on much of the research I was doing for the Center. Along with ELEVATE, this internship helped me develop my professional career by teaching me about philanthropy, creating budgets and grants, and investigating what was happening on MSI campuses. I would not have been able to do this without the mentorship of everyone at the Center.
The love and support I received from the Center was truly a blessing. My time there was inspiring. I worked with such amazing, brilliant, and loving people who were always so welcoming and I quickly felt part of the family. Along with learning about MSIs came life lessons. I learned so much about myself and how to work in ways to support minorities in higher education in order for them to thrive—this is something that I plan to bring back to my PWI campus. This year, I will be taking a class at Beloit College titled “Investigating Minority Serving Institutions,” which I am super thrilled about because my internship at the Center just left me wanting to learn more about MSIs. Therefore, although I am no longer working at the Center, my class will remind of all the wonderful people who greatly impacted my life while working there this summer.
I would like to thank everyone at the Center, everyone I met from ELEVATE, and everyone that made this internship possible. After this school year, I look forward to applying for and attending graduate school for a PhD in Higher Education in order to continue learning about minorities in higher education and helping those like myself obtain their dreams and aspirations.
Vanessa Peña is a rising senior who is double majoring in Education and Sociology at Beloit College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois and is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar.