Scholars in Packard/AAAS Program Travel a Demanding Route to Success
Alicia Nicki Washington
Alicia Nicki Washington graduated from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. and was selected from the Graduate Scholars Program in 2000. She received her Ph.D in computer sciences this year from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Her research has focused on wavelength division multiplexing in optical networks.
"This program extends not only financial support to individuals who might not otherwise have it, but also encourages and stimulates young African American students to pursue advanced degrees. A lot of times I think that after obtaining an undergraduate degree, everyone is really burned out. They don't necessarily have the funding to go on for a higher degree, or they don't have the desire to. So one of the great things about this program is that it allows us to do our research without having to have that extra burden of finding funding and support.
"And not only thateven though we don't have a large network of African American students in our respective institutions or departments, when we come together at this meeting, we have a support system because everyone is on the same page and going through the same experience, so we can share that experience with each other. Then we can go back to our respective universities and know that we have that support system even though it's not necessarily in the same city.
"I think that support system has helped me, especially in the times where I've had issues arise that I didn't necessarily want to talk to my adviser about or someone at the university because I felt like maybe they wouldn't understand my perspective. And I think that being able to talk to other students or administrators at AAAS or the Packard Foundation allows me to feel more comfortable to address my issues or concerns there, get advice on what's the next best step and then, if I need to, follow through with someone on campus. So I think it definitely provides an objective, unbiased ear for us to sound off to and get feedback from without worry of any type of consequence.
"The largest benefit is to be able to go out and have those exciting careers and challenging careers that we want and not just have to take a jobto have a career and carve out our own path. And I think one of the reasons that this program is so important is that we don't see too many people who look like us at this level. So when we do come to a conference like this where there are so many others doing the same thing, it motivates us to continue and it also should be a motivating factor to those coming behind us, to see that there are people who make it, people who succeed, and there's funding so that we don't have to worry about those added pressures of paying for school or having to work through college or grad school.
"I think that's the biggest benefitit brings more of us together and gives us that sounding board and network of connections and support.
"Eventually it's about being able to bring other people in. It shouldn't necessarily be that we're the first and that we're the elite few. It should be commonplace for African American students, who are in science and engineering, especially at historically black colleges and universities, to be able to go on to obtain higher degrees, so that they can come back and teach at these universities and influence and support and inspire the generations behind them."
25 July 2005