M@P-ing the Road to Success: Preparing HBCU Students to Pursue Advanced Degrees

Vollmer, Dottie

Dottie Vollmer

For many students, the thought of earning a graduate degree can be intimidating. For some, it may be due to the lack of support while pursuing an undergraduate degree; for others, it may be due to the lack of knowledge about how to pursue, apply, and gain admission to a graduate program. However, pursuing a graduate degree can become more of reality when students are able to engage in proactive, pre-graduate school experiences over the course of their undergraduate careers.

The Mentoring@Purdue (M@P) program was established in 2012 with the goal to address professional development needs, enhance academic success, and increase career readiness of women and underrepresented minority (URM) graduate students pursuing Ag-STEM graduate degrees. In 2014, M@P enhanced its reach beyond the Purdue University campus by creating the M@P Summer Scholars Program (M@P-SSP). The M@P-SSP began with partnerships with six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) but has since expanded to include 11 HBCUs. The purpose of the M@P-SSP is to recruit upper-level, undergraduate or master’s degree students from collaborating 1890 land-grant institutions to ‘experience’ Purdue University and participate in activities that enhance academic success and graduate school readiness. These activities include the opportunity to visit graduate departments in the College of Agriculture, engage with faculty mentors and students, and explore research opportunities. The focus of M@P-SSP is to develop the social support of women and URM students which is critical to increasing the number of URMs pursuing Ag-STEM graduate degrees.

Students who plan to continue their education after obtaining an undergraduate degree may need additional preparation for graduate school coursework, research, or even insights into the graduate school application process. Preparing for graduate school is a thought undergraduate students often defer until their senior year. However, getting a strong start from day one will boost student chances of getting accepted into a graduate program and being successful while there. Past participants of the M@P-SSP indicated a strong desire to learn more about the graduate school application process. To answer the expressed need of helping undergraduate students to become better prepared for graduate school as well as the graduate school application process, the M@P-ing Out Your Future Pre-Graduate Resource Guide (PGRG) was developed. The PGRG was a by-product of a conversation between the M@P co-director and administrators from a partner HBCU.

The PGRG helps lead students through a linear progression of steps that help them clarify their educational and career goals related to completing a graduate degree. Specifically, students participate in learning experiences that help them prepare academically and professionally for success in graduate school as well as help them understand the steps related to navigating the application process. The PGRG helps students prepare for their graduate career earlier in their undergraduate years. While online, graduate school admissions resources exist at other institutions, the PGRG is a fillable tool students can utilize throughout their entire undergraduate career to “M@P” out their graduate school goals and plans. By beginning early, students will have a higher likelihood of being set up for success.

The M@P-ing Out Your Future Pre-Graduate Resource Guide is an 11-chapter resource tool outlining the steps of applying to graduate school as well as providing tips to students about the application process. This guide chronologically outlines the application process from finding letter of recommendation writers to taking the GRE, from approaching potential faculty to applying for an internship. More specifically, chapter one is a timeline to follow starting with early undergraduate years through the last semester of senior year. This chapter provides a one-stop checklist for students to reference throughout the planning process. Chapter two provides charts to track all undergraduate courses needed to graduate and be successful. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a stressful exercise that affects many students who are considering graduate school. Chapter three explains each section of the exam and provides insights, tips, and links to practice questions to elevate students’ self-efficacy and confidence to succeed. Another stressful choice that students need to make is the school and program for graduate education. Chapter four provides a comparison table for students to complete and visually compare characteristics to find the best fit. The PGRG guides students through what they will need and how to complete a graduate school application. Tips for writing a statement of purpose are outlined (Ch. 7) as well as information to find the best professors to ask for letters of recommendation (Ch. 8). Also included in the PGRG is information about approaching faculty members from universities students are applying (Ch. 10) as well as the best options for internships (Ch. 9). The basic graduate school application requirements are also included and outlined in this guide aimed to help students succeed.

While every student’s educational journey is different, this guide is meant to provide a starting point, as well as important check-in points to consider, when preparing for graduate school. Education should be seen as a journey, not a destination. Choices that students make during their undergraduate years have a major impact on their future career, so planning early and staying focused with the help of the PGRG will help to ensure that students get off to a successful start.

Dottie Vollmer is a graduate student in at Purdue University working with Dr. Levon T. Esters. She is the Campus Activities Coordinator for the Mentoring@Purdue Program in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. Dottie’s research interests include career development, positive youth development, and 4-H Youth Development Programs. You can access the online version of the M@P-ing Out Your Future Pre-Graduate Resource Guide here: http://www.ydae.purdue.edu/map/index.cfm