The cheese, fruit, cookies and brownies were laid out. The sign-in table held marking pens and blank “Hello My Name Is …” tags. Vibrant ethnic music was playing. Everything was in place for the New Graduate Students of Color Welcome Reception on Sept. 27 at UCSB’s MultiCultural Center Lounge. All that was needed were friendly faces of color. And dozens of them turned out for this lively mixer, with warm welcomes by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Michael Young and Graduate Division Dean Dr. Gale Morrison, among others.
The reception, sponsored by the Graduate Division and NSF-AGEP, drew nearly 50 people, including new and returning grad students as well as UCSB faculty and staff. There were also those who fit into more than one category: staff members who are also grad students.
“You have a number of networks that are available to you,” Dean Morrison said in welcoming the new students to “this world-class university.” She called on the students to take advantage of not only their cohorts but also returning grad students and a variety of support staff.
Vice Chancellor Young told the crowd that this summer marked the 41st anniversary of the completion of his master’s degree in history from the University of Michigan. And it has been 33 years since he completed his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration in the College of Education at the University of Iowa. He told the students that because he was a graduate student of color at two institutions, he has “a sense of the kind of issues and pressures you are wrestling with.”
The vice chancellor expressed pride in “the structures that we’ve built here to enhance and support the work of graduate students, particularly graduate students of color, at UCSB. For example, I’m very proud of the Graduate Student Resource Center in the Student Resource Building.”
Young urged the students to check out the center and told them that even amid budget cuts, “we continue to try to design and bring about an array of resources to help you all be successful. That’s very, very important to us.”
Also addressing the guests were Director of Admissions and Outreach Walter Boggan; Diversity & Outreach Peer Advisor Mario Galicia Jr.; and Extramural Funding Advisor Francisco Herrera.
Among the new grad students in attendance were a young Rutgers graduate from New Jersey and a 62-year-old college administrator from Sacramento.
Phillip Handy of Howell, N.J., is here to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology. He was accepted to five universities but chose UCSB because of its strong Ph.D. program, particularly in the area he wants to research, mixed race populations.
Born to an African-American father and a mother of European descent, Handy said Rutgers University, where he double-majored in psychology and sociology, “is a very diverse school.” He came to UCSB, he said, “because I know that the diversity is here. … So far I’ve been able to have some really good conversations that were enriched because there were people from diverse perspectives in on the conversation.”
Another new grad student, LeBaron Woodyard, has worked in higher education for 40 years. For the past 20 years, he has been an administrator in the chancellor’s office of the California community college system in Sacramento. He has taken an 80 percent leave from his job to pursue a Ph.D. in Education at UCSB. Woodyard plans to do his research and dissertation on Distance Education.
Woodyard, who said he’s not one to rush into decisions, selected UCSB after much research and conversations. The 62-year-old said earning a Ph.D. is “something I’ve always wanted to do but I never had time to do it.” With his children grown and gone, “this is on my bucket list.” Woodyard’s goal is to find ways to improve the retention rate of distance education students.
One factor that weighed in Woodyard’s decision to choose UCSB is its welcoming nature. “I was made to feel that I was wanted here. And that’s very important to me,” he said.
As Dr. Morrison told the new graduate students of color: “You’re going to have fun … and you’re going to work hard.” Judging by the laughter and smiles in the crowd, the grad-student newbies already have the “fun” part down. Now it’s on to the “work hard” part.