Robin Phelps-Ward

Robin Phelps-Ward will extend the work of her award-winning dissertation to Clemson University in the Clemson Link program.
Image Credit: Michael Staton

Robin Phelps-Ward, a faculty member in the Clemson University Department of Educational and Organizational Leadership Development, was recently awarded the Ball State University Alumni Association Distinguished Dissertation award for the 2015-2016 academic year. Ball State faculty nominated Phelps-Ward’s work based on its “originality, significant contribution to knowledge, quality of writing and potential for publication.”

Phelps-Ward’s dissertation, “Formal Mentoring Programs to Support Students of Color in the Academy: A Phenomenological Analysis of Student and Faculty Experiences,” explored issues related to the representation and mentoring of students and faculty of color in higher education. Phelps-Ward said she appreciates the recognition, but is even happier that the college has recognized the issue of mentoring for students of color as an issue worthy of investigation and research.

“The mentoring process is one of incredible potential power for students of all backgrounds,” Phelps-Ward said. “This is why it’s so important for higher education institutions to establish programs that make mentoring available to students of color that addresses their experience and their potential future as graduate students and potential faculty.”

Phelps-Ward’s dissertation finds its way to this conclusion by addressing three problems related to the audiences on which it focuses. She analyzes underrepresented faculty of color at colleges and universities, low college completion rates for students of color and the mishandling by predominantly white institutions of mentoring programs aimed at students of color.

Phelps-Ward examined the experiences of 11 faculty and 11 students involved in a future faculty program. She found faculty members are “instrumental in guiding and motivating students of color to consider and pursue graduate school,” and her findings supported existing evidence on the high likelihood of mentoring programs producing future mentors.

“This is why it’s so important that every student get the same access to such an experience regardless of race or background,” Phelps-Ward said. “Having quality mentoring programs in place will only increase the amount of underrepresented students involved in graduate school until they’re no longer underrepresented.”

Representatives from the Clemson University Graduate School have appointed Phelps-Ward as a graduate school faculty fellow in her department. The project she plans to pursue during this fellowship, Clemson Link, will build on the already successful research from her dissertation and focus on the “pipeline” from undergraduate to graduate studies for underrepresented students.