Erica Wheeler
Erica Wheeler

When UofL junior Erica Wheeler first set foot on campus, she wasn’t entirely sure what political science was.

But it wasn’t long before she found out. During her sophomore year she made “poly sci” her major, and, now, she is taking her interest even further as a Ralph Bunche Summer Institute scholar winner.

The scholarship, offered through the American Political Science Association, is a five-week program at Duke University that introduces students to the world of doctoral study in political science. It goes to underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities and is highly competitive. For 2017, only 20 undergraduate students in the U.S. were chosen to receive the award.

Wheeler’s travel, lodging and academic expenses will be paid as part of the scholarship.

She credits political science professor Dewey Clayton with igniting her interest in her chosen major and providing ongoing mentorship. She also says political science professors Sherri Wallace and Elizabeth Jones had a big role in helping her win the scholarship.

“Dr. Sherri Wallace was a great help to me. She participated in the same program when she was my age and it changed her life. She encouraged me to apply and informed me of all its benefits and I‘m so thankful that she did.”

Jones also helped Wheeler during the application process and the two worked together on an independent study course on mass incarceration — an experience that no doubt helped Wheeler strengthen her candidacy for the scholarship.

Wheeler said she plans to attend graduate school and research the implications of politics and race, particularly in regard to black and Latino communities.

“The institute is going to give me a chance to not only go to Duke University and interact with political science professors from all over the country, but to interact with peers who have the same educational interests as me and who are also persons of color,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler is a 2014 graduate of Hardin County’s Henry Clay High School.

The institute honors Ralph Bunche, the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize winner, former American Political Science Association president and the first African American to receive a doctoral degree in political science.