October 7, 2013

Twenty-five diverse future doctoral students from around the nation spent the summer in Iowa City learning how to pursue their academic dreams.

The students, each from an underrepresented group in graduate education, are participants in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation’s Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP). The program pairs aspiring graduate students who are currently enrolled in an undergraduate program with a faculty mentor. The students work on a research project and attend workshops on topics such as composing an academic resumé and preparing for the GRE.

Justin Roberson, Dr. Stewart Ehly with Joshua Hill, Duyen Trang, Christine Perez, Dr. Kit Gerken, Alexis Ashby, Mercedes Cambric with Dr. Elizabeth Altmaier, Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon, Dr. Malik Henfield

“This gives underrepresented students the opportunity to understand what graduate school might be like, how to work with graduate faculty, how research is conducted, and more,” says School Psychology Associate Professor Kit Gerken, a College of Education faculty mentor for the program for several years.

Of the 25 students in this year’s SROP group, six chose to study with a College of Education mentor.

Diana Bryant, who coordinates the program at the University of Iowa, says the College of Education is one of the most active participants in SROP on campus. “The College of Education mentors are consistently among the best and most sought after,” she says.

Alexis Ashby, who is working on her bachelor’s degree at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, worked with Gerken this summer. In her research project, she compared traditional and alternative high school students and assessed whether their mental health needs are being met. This is a longitudinal study for Gerken, and Ashby says she enjoyed the chance to do hands-on work in psychology and learn more about the field from a new angle.

“It’s not just what you read in a textbook, it’s application,” Ashby says. “This is what psychologists do. This is the research. I’m getting a more in-depth view.”

Duyen Trang, a psychology major at San Diego State University, aims to someday join a Ph.D. program in clinical child psychology. This summer, she worked with School Psychology Professor Stewart Ehly on a project studying depression in adolescents with an emphasis on racial and ethnic differences.

“I am acquiring skills to maximize my learning potential, develop as a scholar, and create a network that supports my academic advancement,” Trang says.

Ehly has been serving as a mentor to this program for decades and says he does it because he enjoys it. “It’s as simple as that,” he says. “The students are always interesting.”

Other SROP scholars studying at the College of Education this summer included Christine Perez from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, and University of Iowa student Joshua Hill, also working with Ehly; Mercedes Cambric of Spelman College, who worked with Counseling Psychology professors Megan Foley Nicpon and Elizabeth Altmaier; and UI student Justin Roberson, who worked with School Counseling Associate Professor Malik Henfield.

Ehly says he enjoys witnessing SROP students experience the campus and all it has to offer as an extensive research university during their eight weeks on campus.

“Many students come with two or three interest areas and by the time they leave, they have 10 or more because we’ve exposed them to so many possibilities,” he says. “They often see opportunities and resources that aren’t readily available where they’re from.”

That experience has a positive outcome for the University of Iowa: many SROP students choose the University of Iowa as their post-undergraduate home. Bryant reports that of the 731 students who have participated in the program to date, nearly 20 percent have later enrolled at the University of Iowa.

Photo ID: 1. Justin Roberson, 2. Dr. Stewart Ehly with Joshua Hill, 3. Duyen Trang, 4. Christine Perez, 5. Dr. Kit Gerken, 6. Alexis Ashby, 7. Mercedes Cambric with Dr. Elizabeth Altmaier, 8. Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon, 9. Dr. Malik Henfield