by Julie Lineback
Three graduate programs from the University of West Georgia’s College of Arts and Humanities (COAH) united recently to form the COAH Graduate Studies Fellowship for Underrepresented Minority Students.
The inaugural recipients are Isiah Aranda, history; Emani Collins, English; and Maria Menendez, music. Each will receive $500 to use for professional development, conference travel, books or supplies; mentorship and support from faculty; out-of-state waivers; and leadership opportunities within the college.
The new initiative extends from COAH and the Graduate School’s commitment to the value of inclusiveness, one UWG places at the core of its vision to be the best place to work, learn and succeed. It aims to help increase the number of underrepresented minority students who complete graduate degrees in the college.
“This unique fellowship sends a clear message — we value diversity,” said Dr. Pauline Gagnon, COAH dean. “Our superb graduate programs in English, history and music will benefit from a more proactive step towards growing an inclusive and diverse population in the College of Arts and Humanities.”
“The moment that made me pursue history at the graduate level as opposed to anthropology was when I started realizing that, in order to understand these hierarchies and why they persist, I needed to understand more about history itself,” he shared.
Dr. Stephanie M. Chalifoux, assistant professor and director of graduate studies in history, said Aranda made a compelling case in his application materials that “impressed everyone.”
“He is a bright and dedicated student in our department, and we believe that he will
benefit from the fellowship,” she said.
Aranda said he is honored to be a member of the inaugural class of recipients.
“In a time when native land is still under attack, opportunities like this are more valuable than ever,” he shared. “The communities I come from—on both sides—have been historically disenfranchised not only by society, but also by the historical record. This award allows me an opportunity to push forward in my education so that I can work towards reclaiming the past of my people.”
Collins, a Caribbean-American, is the daughter of migrants originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although she didn’t want to be a teacher, she knew from an early age she wanted to major in English. She received her bachelor’s degree in English in 2017.
She was encouraged to apply for the fellowship by Dr. Patrick Erben, professor and director of graduate studies in English.
“As a professor of American literature and culture, I appreciate how deeply knowledgeable Emani is about the diverse heritages and cultural perspectives of the United States, informed particularly by her family's background in the Virgin Islands,” Erben said. “Her capstone paper in my senior seminar on ‘Food and Eating in Literature and Culture’ focused on the spiritual and cultural significance of food in the Rastafarian movement, which allowed her to combine family background and meticulous research.”
Collins said she holds the fellowship close to her heart.
“Being a minority student and culturally aware is vital for me,” she shared. “It is so astonishing to be able to say that I am one of the first to achieve something at this notable university. From the time I stepped foot on UWG’s campus in August 2014, I knew that I would be successful at this institution because of the many opportunities and resources that are granted to students. The university’s mission to promote and recognize hardworking, underrepresented minority students is so amazing.”
Collins will use her stipend to travel to Cincinnati to present at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention.
Menendez, Carrollton Junior High School’s band director, said her own experience as a band student inspired her to teach music.
“My band directors completely changed me as a person and poured their lives in to me,” the Ontario, Canada native recalled. “An opportunity to do that for my entire career sounded appealing.”
After meeting UWG music faculty members Drs. Dawn McCord, Cale Self and Josh Byrd, Menendez said she knew she was ready to take the next step in her education at UWG.
“Maria Menendez is recognized by both her music colleagues as well as administration in her school system,” said McCord, professor of music education and organ. “She also serves as a mentor to UWG undergraduate music education majors and strives to submit the best work both in content and in relevance for her discipline.”
Menendez, who is scheduled to graduate this summer, said receiving the fellowship is an honor.
“I came to this country because my parents wanted an opportunity for me and my siblings,” she shared. “We have been granted so many opportunities to flourish and create our own paths in life that I would not necessarily have the freedom to do in other countries. The fact that UWG recognizes that challenge is very touching. There is a lot of effort and money that goes into adapting to a new country along with a lengthy process to gain rights that others are born with.”Posted on