Graduate School launches new mentorship program to mitigate challenges to student success

The Wayne State University Graduate School will launch a new pipeline program in January 2021 called Success for Underrepresented Students in Graduate Education (SURGE) to support underserved, domestic students, including first-generation college students.

The program is funded by a grant from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The award seeks applicants that are innovative in promoting success in graduate education and is granted to one institution in the U.S. every year.

SURGE will use a multifaceted approach to address common challenges faced by college students, such as funding and time to degree. In partnership with WSU student services and faculty, SURGE will pair undergraduate trainees with graduate student mentors and facilitate career development seminars and workshops.

Trainees will have an opportunity to apply for the AGRADE master’s scholarship, which can greatly reduce graduate school tuition. They will also be encouraged to apply to the Accelerated GRADuate Enrollment program (AGRADE), which allows highly qualified undergraduates to earn undergraduate and graduate credits simultaneously, saving students time and money.

More opportunities

Pipeline programs such as AGRADE are often the reason undergraduates see obtaining a graduate degree as a viable option at all.

“I hadn’t intended on attending graduate school,” said Renee Pellegrini, a former AGRADE participant and current Master of Public Administration student, “rather AGRADE afforded me the opportunity to take 12 graduate credits in the M.P.A. program, which introduced me to tactical methods and techniques for policy analysis, evaluation and implementation.”

Being one-third of the way finished with her M.P.A. by the time she graduated with her bachelor’s, she decided to complete the degree.

Pellegrini describes herself as a non-traditional student. Once an aspiring interior designer, she graduated with an Associate in Fine Arts from Alma College during the 2007-2009 recession, at which time, jobs in interior design weren’t available. So, she moved back home to Detroit and took a job waitressing at a golf club before deciding that she wanted more.

Now, she’s completed enough credits to earn a graduate certificate in economic development in addition to her M.P.A.

Her career aspirations look a little different these days thanks to her graduate education and work as an AmeriCorps housing specialist at a homeless shelter in Oakland County. 

“I want to utilize the experience and knowledge I gained working as an implementer of Department of Housing and Urban Development funded housing programs in conjunction with economic, and community development tools learned in the M.P.A. program to inform policy analysis, it's implementation and eventually garner more equitable and affordable housing options for all persons,” Pellegrini said.   

Nicole Coleman, a former AGRADE participant and current master's student in criminal justice, also enrolled at Wayne State University with no intention of going to graduate school. But while interning at the 51st District Court Probation Department in Waterford, she learned “a master’s degree is more marketable and obtaining a higher education degree will offer a larger variety of professional opportunities,” she said.

Her advisor encouraged her to enlist in AGRADE.

Coleman credits the AGRADE program with preparing her for her current position as an assistant in case records at the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. And once she graduates with her bachelor’s, she will graduate with her master’s just one year later.

“This is extremely helpful because normally it takes people two years, and this saved me a year of graduate school tuition.

“The AGRADE program encouraged me to continue my education here at Wayne State, and to pursue a higher degree in the first place. I don’t think I could have done this without the AGRADE program,” Coleman said.

The goal is that SURGE, too, will show students that graduate education is not out of reach. By providing underrepresented groups more opportunities, SURGE will prepare them to thrive and impact local communities and beyond.

On October 15, the Graduate School will host a webinar on SURGE, where attendees can ask questions and learn more about the program. You can RSVP for the webinar here. 

If you are interested in becoming a SURGE trainee, apply here. The application closes October 30. The program formally launches in January 2021 when SURGE trainees are paired with mentors.

Written by Kristy Case

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