As part of its ongoing effort to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented students pursuing graduate and PhD degrees, the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate studies on May 9 held its fourth annual Celebration of Excellence in Graduate Diversity.

The awards ceremony honored dozens of students receiving their master’s or doctoral degree or who have attained doctoral degree candidacy. Also recognized were the faculty mentors who helped along the way.

“We need you. We need your diverse perspective,” SIGS Dean Beth Boehm told the audience that included friends and family members of the graduates. “You are our next generation of leaders.”

The event is part of SIGS effort, underway since 2014, to help support graduate and doctoral students from underrepresented populations by connecting them to their university community.

“In this group today, we have educators, engineers, we have social workers, actresses, actors, biologists, musicians, professors, mathematicians, sociologists, writers, doctors, scientists, administrators, policymakers, activists and so many other professions that we need to motivate and inspire others to become change agents,” said Latonia Craig, SIGS director of graduate recruitment and diversity retention.

Craig joined UofL in 2014 to develop programming that would support students awarded SIGS minority fellowships. She was tasked with finding ways to help the fellows solve common problems that caused them to leave the university before finishing their degrees.

Master’s and PhD students and graduates gathered at the SIGS Celebration of Excellence in Graduate Diversity.

We want the world to know that when UofL’s diverse graduate students of color transition into the workforce or even decide to pursue another degree, they will have made this decision knowing that their campus community has supported them,” Craig said. 

Latonia Craig, SIGS director of graduate recruitment and diversity retention.

Mordean Taylor-Archer, UofL’s vice-provost for diversity and international affairs, gave the graduates and doctoral candidates a charge.

“You have got to become social activists,” she said.

Nine doctoral graduates were given the chance to talk about their educational journeys. Each one included a story about a difficulty that had to be overcome to make it over the finish line.

“The ‘P’ in PhD stands for ‘perseverance,’” said Tiva Vancleave, who earned a doctorate in microbiology and immunology and said she couldn’t let her 7-year-old daughter see her quit. “The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t always a train, it’s a light. … You will get there.”