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Financial Aid, ‘Imposter Syndrome’ Cited as Impediments to Minority Grad School Success


Growing up in Puerto Rico, Roberto Delgado knew that he wanted to attend graduate school. His father, a philosophy professor, encouraged, but didn’t pressure his son to go into academia. After moving to California, Delgado worked odd jobs to put himself through college. He is encouraged to hear that his goal is not only attainable, but also affordable.

The 22-year-old communications major will graduate with a bachelor’s from San Jose State University this spring. He says he is looking forward to continuing his education at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. But he says what really excites him is the amount of money available for minority students at the graduate level.

“USC has full funding,” Delgado says. “Most of the schools I am applying to have full funding. My parents can’t afford to send me there otherwise.”

Finding a way to finance graduate school is a major concern for minorities, many of whom struggle to pay for college. But funding is out there, according to Ayodele Thomas, assistant dean for multicultural affairs at Stanford University.

“Funding is critical,” she says. “Most minority students can attend graduate school free of charge.”

Thomas, who presented a workshop titled “Financing Your Graduate Education” at the 2006 Northern California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education on Saturday, says there is more funding available at the doctoral level than the master’s level. She says university funding comes with expectations that the student must publish or teach at the institution. For more flexibility, she recommends finding external funding sources such as ethnicity-based organizations.

Thomas says minorities who want to pursue a doctorate often face uphill battles with families that do not understand the value of a postgraduate education.

“The families usually just want the students to get a job and start making money,” she says. “Most students have to fight their families on this.”

Though the forum was about diversity in graduate education, racial issues were not the central focus. Instead, the forum concentrated largely on bringing ethnically diverse college students together to sell them on the need for continuing their education.

More than 800 private and public university students from Central California to the Oregon border were bussed to Mills College in the hills of Oakland, Calif., for a day of workshops and lectures. Invited students were identified as having the potential to pursue graduate degrees and being from under-represented minority groups.

Besides financing their education, students heard lectures on preparing for the Graduate Record Exam, writing a Statement of Purpose, applying to graduate school and the role of the master’s degree.

The most popular session was a workshop titled “Keys to Success and Survival in Graduate School.” Although the panel of four minority graduate students answered questions from a room full of mostly minority undergrads, race was rarely mentioned. Instead, the students asked the panelists for practical advice on time management techniques, choosing an adviser and balancing school and social life.

“It was inspiring to see students like us up there,” said Carmen Velazquez, a senior psychology major at California State University-East Bay. “A few years ago, they were where we are now. It shows that we can do it too.”

Stephanie Fryberg gave the keynote address at the forum, which also featured more than 160 recruiters from graduate schools nationwide. Fryberg, a member of the Tulalip tribe of Washington state and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, said one of the biggest impediments facing minority students does not come from the graduate schools, but from the students themselves.

“Students need to be willing to make themselves vulnerable and seek out the help and feedback they need from professors,” she said, adding that many minority students at the graduate level suffer from “imposter syndrome;” a fear that they will be “exposed” as not being smart if they ask for help.

Delgado says he agrees with Fryberg. In order to get into USC, he says he is going to have to believe in himself. Being surrounded by other minority students at forums like this helps build confidence, he says.

“Universities have done a good job of being more inclusive,” he says. “Now the burden is on minority students to take the initiative to make it at the next level.”

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