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Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) Alumni

Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) Alumni

"In academia, community is everything! My success in SROP was a direct result of being poured into by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, my faculty adviser, countless graduate student mentors, and members of my SROP cohort."

The Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) is a competitive research experience hosted by The Graduate School for sophomores and juniors from colleges and universities across the United States. It was launched at Big Ten Academic Alliance universities in 1986 as a gateway to graduate education for underrepresented students. Over the past decades, SROP has grown into a supervised research-intensive experience, complemented by academic enrichment activities and exposure to graduate school as a postbaccalaureate option.

Students who are traditionally underrepresented in graduate education are encouraged to apply to participate. To learn more about this program, we recently chatted with some SROP alumni who have since joined Northwestern as PhD students this quarter.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience? 

Carmen Crusoe, PhD student in the Department of African American Studies: I study the Africana experience across time and space with a focus on education and institutions of higher learning, quests for liberation, intellectual history, and cultural meaning-making. Currently, my research explores the involvement of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the formation and progression of Black studies from the 19th century to the present. 

Marquis Taylor, PhD Student in the Department of History: My research interests vary. However, a majority of my work is centered around ensuring Black people have space in archives and that our stories are told. Seeing members of my own family as historical actors informed my love for history, but their absence from the archives inspired me to want to be a historian. Those interests propelled into my honor's thesis, which focused on free and enslaved Black communities and their pursuit of freedom and economic prosperity during the antebellum period. More specifically, I focused my study on the port city of Savannah, Georgia.

María Méndez-Santos, PhD Student in Biomedical Engineering: I work with biomaterials, particularly biological materials that are designed to help the body repair, replace, or regenerate tissue.

Gregory Keslin, PhD Student in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences: My most recent research has been focused on sampling algorithms for linear regression. With the large increase in the size of datasets, there are many cases in which the amount of time required to calculate a regression has ballooned. A simple way to fix such increases in computational time is to just pick some subset of the data. However, the "quality" of the regression is impaired when less data points are used. The main focus of the research is to identify methods in which we can sample the larger dataset in such a manner that the regression "quality" of the subsample is higher than arbitrarily picking random points from the dataset while also being sufficiently fast.

Spencer Nabors, PhD Student in the Department of Philosophy: My research interests are broad. I am especially interested in knowledge formation and embodied experience. More specifically, I am concerned with knowledge held in and with one's own body. 

Jordan Gurneau, PhD Student in Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering: I'm interested in monitoring changes in plant communities due to climate change. The more information that can be shared regarding our natural resources equates to wiser decisions regarding planning and development for our species place in nature. Plants grow in a variety of ecosystems and often have clear indicators that can communicate to us about changes, big and small, that could be happening in the moment or in the near future.

Why did you choose Northwestern for graduate school?

Carmen: I chose Northwestern for graduate school because of my specific program. The types of questions that the scholars at all levels are posing, the lenses they are using in their examinations, and their relationships to and conceptualizations of African American Studies both intrigued and excited me. I'm looking forward to both learning and contributing to this intellectual community.

Marquis: Northwestern is an innovative space with faculty and students engaged in some really fascinating work. For a long time now, I knew this was a broader community I wanted to join. The institution's emphasis on interdisciplinary work and its proximity to Chicago were also important factors in my decision-making process.

María: I chose Northwestern for graduate school because I really enjoyed my experiences with SROP and really liked the Ameer Lab, its lab members, and the environment. Additionally, finding a PI with whom you connect is vital for your PhD.

Jordan: I chose Northwestern because of its resources available to researchers and more importantly for me, the University's efforts to repair relationships with Indigenous nations with respect to the founder of Northwestern and the namesake of Evanston. As an Ojibwe citizen, I value my specific tribal identity as well as my relative tribal nations and our shared history with settler colonialism. I recognize the endeavors of many people within Northwestern who are welcoming to people like me to join the Northwestern family and become a creator of knowledge. 

What was the most beneficial or helpful aspect of participating in SROP?

Carmen: We were treated like true students of the University and had access to many resources to aid our success within and beyond the program. I felt as though we were poured into not only professionally, but personally as well. To have such an authentic experience allowed me to better visualize myself at Northwestern. 

Gregory: For me, the most helpful aspect of SROP was the experience in research given to me by my faculty mentor. Because of this, I was able to more fully comprehend the entire research process from writing a proposal to presenting the finished research. Another invaluable aspect was the ability to see how a department that's focused on research operated. My undergraduate institution had less of a focus on research output, so getting to see how I liked being in a university that focused more on such things was extremely beneficial for me.

Jordan: It was refreshing to see like-minded people of color who were very driven, full of energy, who had pride and pep in their step, come to a university like Northwestern and want to succeed. It taught me how to remember who I am as I am journeying through graduate school.

María: The most beneficial aspect of participating in SROP was the graduate school scenario experience. The experience and curriculum were designed to make me feel like I was attending graduate school with the plus of having the training wheels still attached.

What lessons did you learn from participating in SROP? 

Marquis: In academia, community is everything! My success in SROP was a direct result of being poured into by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, my faculty adviser (Dr. Leslie M. Harris), countless graduate student mentors, and members of my SROP cohort. I understand now more than ever that my success in graduate school is contingent on my ability to find nurturing communities that support my academic ambitions.

Carmen: Setting aside time for reflection is crucial. The life of a scholar can be tough, and time moves swiftly. However, taking the time to pause, remember your “why,” recalibrate, and process things will not only allow you to maintain your well-being but to be lively and present within your scholastic journey.

María: I learned that research can be very isolating if one is not careful, and it's important to actively seek others and make use of the resources and support that the University provides. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow a similar path as you?

Gregory: I would advise them to gain some research experience through a program like SROP so that they can be confident that a PhD is right for them. 

Spencer: I would encourage anyone who is applying to PhD programs to reach out to faculty with whom you are interested in working. It is helpful to build relationships even before you submit any applications.

Jordan: I try my best to remain humble because that's what my tribal teachings reinforce, and a lot of times humility helped me overcome any flaws, failures, or setbacks I encountered in my journey thus far. The fear and anxiety that plagues me is met with sincere humility because I am just a human doing the best I can. I hope that if you are looking at a similar path as me that you remember that you are just a human that is doing the best you can and keep going.

Carmen: You are divinely and perfectly designed for your journey. Honor it by embracing your special path and not comparing your journey to anyone else's.

Published: September 29, 2020 

If you know a graduate student, postdoctoral trainee, graduate faculty member, staff member, or a member of our TGS alumni population who would make a great candidate for our TGS Spotlight Series, please complete this brief TGS Spotlight Series Nomination Form.