Home » ‘It can be attainable’: ACM students explore graduate school options through GRADx

‘It can be attainable’: ACM students explore graduate school options through GRADx

‘It can be attainable’: ACM students explore graduate school options through GRADx May 2, 2024

Above: Thirty-three undergraduates from ACM colleges attended the GRADx campus visit in April 2024.

Thirty-three undergraduates from eleven Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) institutions took part in the spring forum of the Graduate School Exploration (GRADx) Program, held April 18-20 at the University of Minnesota. Participants described it as inspirational and helpful in demystifying graduate studies in fields the ACM views as critical to the future of liberal arts education.

“There’s this huge misconception that graduate school is this giant, unattainable thing,” said Kamana’okekai Lattig, a junior studying theater and history at Knox College. “It’s a long, difficult process, but it’s not unattainable. That’s the beauty of GRADx, that you learn it can be attainable.”

The ACM-led program spotlights graduate education in the arts, humanities, and humanistic social sciences. Studies have shown the number of students pursuing degrees in those areas, including literature, philosophy, and history, has declined in recent years.

Supported by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, GRADx provides students from historically underrepresented groups with the opportunity to learn whether graduate school is right for them, how to apply, and what career paths are possible with an advanced degree. The ACM partners with the universities of the Big Ten Academic Alliance and the University of Chicago to offer participants campus visits, tours, meet-and-greets, and panel discussions.

Donivan Jones, a graduating sociology major at Cornell College, will pursue a master’s degree in higher education student affairs from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development next year. Jones credited GRADx for preparing him to write an effective personal statement.

“Learning about funding opportunities was nice,” Jones added, referring to GRADx discussions about grants and assistantships. “I can go to school and get paid without having to pick up an extra job, which opened the doors for me to consider different places. That was a consideration I hadn’t thought of before.”

GRADx sessions allow students to learn about applying to and navigating graduate school. (Image: Tony Nelson)

Many GRADx participants have said that prior to the program, they had never spoken with a graduate student, university research professor, or admissions officer about the realities of graduate school in the arts or humanities.

Jones said attending the seminar in Minneapolis provided him with valuable insights about building community with graduate students. The topic was exciting and reassuring to Jones, who pointed out that he expects to experience a culture shift as he goes from attending college in a small Midwest town to becoming a graduate student in New York City.

Applicants to GRADx may include BIPOC students, international students, students with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, first-gen college students, undergrads covered by the federal DACA program, and others who faced disadvantages or took non-traditional routes to college.

Milci Gonzalez-Medina, a sophomore psychology and Spanish major at Lawrence University, said exploring the University of Minnesota helped soothe anxieties around graduate school.

“I had an idea of what a graduate student is, but I don’t think I ever thought it was a possibility for me until I saw people who look like me in these positions,” Gonzalez-Medina said. “I’m really grateful I can attach a face to a profession that wasn’t originally built for someone like me.”

Daniella Embu, a junior studying psychology at St. Olaf College, described the low-pressure GRADx trip as mind-expanding and informative about what she could expect if she continues her formal education beyond her bachelor’s degree.

“It was really fascinating to see how the panelists incorporated their identity or their experiences into their research,” Embu said, emphasizing how she appreciated hearing from speakers who were diversifying their fields. “It was really beautiful to see how they integrated things they’ve been through or who they are, and to see how they’re using that to change research. They’re being that change they want to see in the world.”

Participation in GRADx is free for ACM students accepted to each year’s cohort. The program covers the students’ transportation and other expenses, as well as costs to the host universities.

“We are deeply grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its support for this transformational set of experiences for undergraduates across our fourteen campuses,” said Lisa Jasinski, the president of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.

Jasinski praised ACM staff and partner universities for their hard work organizing and hosting this year’s GRADx events.

Panelists describe career opportunities in the arts, humanities, and humanistic social sciences. (Image: Tony Nelson)

“Many of our students were previously unaware of what they could do with an advanced degree in the arts or humanities,” the ACM president said. “The program showcased a wide range of meaningful career options that could await them after graduate school.”

A participant survey conducted following the visit to the University of Minnesota revealed that attending GRADx increased the number of students expressing interest in applying to graduate school.

During the 2024-2025 academic year, GRADx students will attend a fall forum at Indiana University and a spring forum at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. ACM students considering GRADx should read these frequently-asked questions and review this application guide, which includes a list of campus contacts who can provide more information. Selections for the 2024-2025 cohort will be finalized by early June.

Gonzalez-Medina said the Minneapolis visit and a fall 2023 excursion to the University of Wisconsin-Madison helped GRADx students move beyond self-doubt and fears of the unknown around graduate school.

“One of the ways GRADx alleviates those things is it reminds us of our worth,” Gonzalez-Medina said. “It reminds us we’re here for a reason, and that reason is to succeed. I’m not only just proud of myself, but I’m proud of the people around me.”

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