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UCSB Ph.D. Alum Overcomes Odds and Pays Back With History Grad Parent Award

Ingrid with her daughter Grace and grandson by marriage, Jodell, in this 2010 photo.Dr. Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly believes strongly in paying back and paying forward. When she was a History Ph.D. student at UCSB just a few years ago, “graduate school was quite difficult for me. Not in terms of the intellectual rigors required but rather insofar as managing my life circumstances beyond school.” Pursuing a graduate degree is bound to be difficult when you are a disabled Navy veteran taking oral chemotherapy for a rare bone-marrow disease developed during Persian Gulf War duty; a single woman carrying a child in a high-risk pregnancy; and surviving an abusive past.

Financial awards she received from the History Department and History Associates, including a 2005 Donald Van Gelderen Memorial Fellowship, which recognizes nontraditional students who return to graduate study after pursuing career and family interests, allowed Ingrid to support her then-infant daughter, Grace.

“It was incredibly difficult to make ends meet while meeting my degree requirements,” she said. “However, earning my Ph.D. in History had become more than a mere personal goal. I realized that I was an example for other nontraditional students of color,” continued Ingrid, who is of African-American and Irish descent. “In fact, today African Americans still constitute only 1% of all graduate school students at UCSB.”

Ingrid overcame financial, health, and other obstacles to earn her Ph.D. in 2009, and today she is a U.S. History instructor both here at UCSB and at the University of La Verne’s Point Mugu Naval Air Station campus. She has been married since 2008 to Ritchie, and their blended family includes 11-year-old daughter Grace, Ritchie’s sons Landon and Zach, and Landon’s son, Jodell.

With gratitude for the assistance she received as a student, and mindful that “grad students need support now more than ever,” Ingrid established the Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly Award for parents raising children while working on their Ph.D.’s in History at UCSB. Her donation of $2,500, which she has committed to for the next 5 years, is being matched dollar for dollar by History Associates.

In June, the first two $2,500 awards were given to Munther Husain Al-Sabbagh, who is studying medieval commerce and exchange in the Indian Ocean basin; and Kenneth Charles Hough, who is writing on American perceptions of Japan before World War II.

“I was delighted to watch two fathers receive the first-ever Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly award and look forward over the next five years to watching those future relieved faces receive some funding,” Ingrid said. “Munther’s child had just come into the world the night before the ceremony,” she said, making him a father to three children. “I hope this award will inspire other grad students to do something similar or to even donate to already established awards.” 

Ingrid herself was also honored with an award in June. She was the recipient of UCSB’s  Margaret T. Getman Service to Students Award. History Ph.D. candidate Monica Garcia, in supporting Ingrid’s nomination for the award, called her “the epitome of selflessness and dedication as a professor and mentor” who “has always maintained focus on giving back and contributing to the success of others.”

Indeed, Ingrid doesn’t want grad-student alums to forget those who come after them. “After completing school many new Ph.D.s, if they are lucky, bring with them the best UCSB has to offer to their new job or academic institution. While we grow and develop our careers at new schools or in different venues, I believe it is essential for us to turn our gaze back to our home institution in order to support those still in need.”

Ingrid, who is finishing the final edits on her forthcoming book, “By the Least Bit of Blood: The Allure of Blackness Among Mixed-Race Americans of African Descent, 1862-1935,” discusses her experiences as a teacher, student, parent, philanthropist, and role model. Read on. …

Tell us about the Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly Award

I donated $2,500 to create the Ingrid Dineen-Wimberly Award to help graduate-student mothers and fathers finish their degrees. Mindful of the difficulties I faced as a single, graduate-student parent, I decided to pay back and pay forward the help I received and hoped that my giving would inspire other recent Ph.D. graduates to do the same. I committed to fund the award for the next five years and made sure that, if an appropriate candidate did not exist during a particular award season, the History Department could use the money as a recruitment tool. After I approached the History Associates (which offers annual funding to History students), they agreed to match my award.

What is your philosophy of working with students?

As a disabled veteran of both African-American and Irish descent, I see myself as a beacon by which other nontraditional students may navigate. Not in an abstract, trite way but as a woman scholar who has actually overcome insurmountable odds.

The fact is women like me typically don’t get Ph.D.s. We end up dead, institutionalized, drug-addicted, or stuck in a perpetual caldron of economic and educational poverty. Instead, my life is dedicated to the service of others, including those people who have yet to experience the fulfillment college provides.

In my community I mentor parolees, addicts, and victims of physical and sexual violence. This commitment to service is rooted in my past. After enduring years of abuse, I became a runaway at the age of 12, a “ward of the state,” and was sent to live in a home for girls run by the Sisters of Good Shepherd. Today, I edit college applications for many of their current residents.

Early in my academic career I linked learning to teaching. The progression of my academic pursuits paralleled my commitment to the education of others. While in graduate school, in the face of serious obstacles, this approach sustained me. For most of my graduate career I took oral chemotherapy to manage a bone-marrow disease contracted during the Persian Gulf War. While earning my master’s degree I learned that I was carrying an extremely high-risk pregnancy. Amazingly, my baby girl thrived as did my academic life. As a single mother, who commuted three hours a day to get to school, I remained motivated by the realization that my research and teaching were not just about me. My efforts inspired those students and community members who looked to me as an example. The fact remains that for many nontraditional students there lies just below the veneer of stoic countenance a fear of academic inadequacy. This fear often prevents disadvantaged or nontraditional students from using academic support services. Thus, individual examples, like me, make the difference.

For example, while teaching a course in U.S. History, I learned in the most poignant of ways just how important to students of color my very presence is. I had just given a lecture when an African-American woman approached me adorned with an ecstatic smile. I was stunned when this student, as if she were my daughter, hugged me and placed her head upon my bosom, exclaiming, “I have never seen a person of color in this position.”

How do you assist your grad students?

I read, edit, and help reconceptualize dissertation chapters, a task normally assigned to doctoral committee members or full-time faculty. I also spend countless hours on the phone or through email communication helping graduate students or my teaching assistants improve pedagogic techniques. I also mentor my teaching assistants by allowing them to give partial lectures so they may further develop their teaching abilities by receiving feedback, while they bolster their resumes. Finally, while reviewing fellowship applications, I help graduate students develop successful academic and career strategies.

Discuss your relationship with students beyond that of a lecturer

Typically, lecturers teach one or two courses and move on to their next opportunity. Because I have enjoyed the privilege of teaching at UCSB in some capacity for so many years, many of these students have grown up with me. That is, I have ushered many UCSB students from their freshmen years toward the road to achieving their post-graduate goals. This unique circumstance, in just the last 18 months, has positioned me to write at least 30 letters of recommendations. If I included my entire time at UCSB the number of letters I have written would be staggering. In addition, my relationships with these students often don’t end with one recommendation. Because they stay in contact with me I am often asked to write multiple letters for the same student.

I am not paid to do this; however, I do it in the spirit or tradition of UC President Clark Kerr’s original vision. I am a scholar-teacher in every sense of the word; as such, I partake in this kind of service because our students, families, and communities so desperately need the help.

For more information on how to give to graduate students, please see Graduate Division’s Giving page.

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