Main Navigation


First-of-its-kind program takes holistic approach to preparing African-American doctoral students for life after graduation.

By Annalisa Purser, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications

While African-American students are among the least represented at the University of Utah, the institution is launching a first-of-its-kind program designed to change that. The African-American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, which begins fall 2017, provides eligible students with annual scholarships worth up to $5,000, among other resources. Applications are being accepted through April 14.

The community-building program aims to prepare students for life after graduation by helping candidates develop skills including teaching, developing syllabi, submitting grant proposals, publishing and presenting research, etc. The scholarship award money may be used for research and conference travel, professional development and dissertation research and writing expenses.

“Many African-American doctoral students are only prepared to conduct research upon graduating,” said Deniece Dortch, program manager for the initiative and postdoctoral research fellow who joined the U in fall 2016. “We recognize these gaps and want students to be competitive on the job market once they complete their degrees. This program provides students with a network of peers, mentors and professional development workshops to set them up for success.”

To be eligible for the program, students must self-identify as a member of the African-American community, be accepted into a doctoral program at the U, be a full-time student, have earned a 3.0 cumulative GPA or higher, be a U.S. citizen and be able to demonstrate a commitment to understanding black life, history and culture in the United States.

Students accepted into the inaugural cohort will have opportunities to serve on research teams, present at national and international research conferences, attend workshops on grant writing, participate in dissertation boot camps, work with African-American faculty and alumni mentors and more.

The program was developed by four African-American professors in the College of Education, William A. Smith, associate professor and chair in the Department of Education, Culture and Society with a joint appointment in the Ethnic Studies Program; Paula Smith, associate professor in Educational Leadership and Policy; Karen A. Johnson, associate professor of education in the Department of Education, Culture and Society with a joint appointment as associate professor of African-American studies in the School for Cultural and Social Transformation; and Laurence Parker, professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for African-American doctoral students to learn from the academic socialization that we benefitted from as we earned our doctoral degrees, but take it one step further to provide a structured, intentional experience that doesn’t rely on an individual’s capacity for mentoring,” said Paula Smith.

When Dortch came to the U in fall 2016, she was a natural fit to manage the new initiative because her research focuses on understanding how African-American undergraduate and graduate students experience and respond to race and racism at predominantly white institutions of higher education.

“Deniece has been a wonderful addition to this program,” Smith said. “Not only does she have the academic background that meshes well with this program, but she also has the program planning and development experience that will make this program a success for the U.”

Program mentors include the initiative’s developers William A. Smith, Paula Smith, Johnson and Parker, as well as Steven A. Bell, assistant professor (lecturer) in the Department of Occupational and Recreational Therapies; Kamisha L. Johnson-Davis, associate professor (clinical) in the Department of Pathology and medical director for clinical toxicology at ARUP Laboratories; Clifton G. Sanders, provost for Academic Affairs at Salt Lake Community College and University of Utah alumnus in chemistry; Noël Mellick Volz, assistant professor of history; and Paul H. White, associate professor of social psychology in the Department of Psychology.

The African-American Doctoral Scholars Initiative is sponsored by the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation and the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the U.