Scholars combine love and learning in pursuit of PhD
By Rosalynn Duff
Sitting on the same side of the room in a small office, UofL students Michael and Michelle Robinson are living proof that love can bloom in the halls of academia.
In fall of 2003 the couple met at the Writing Center in UofL's Ekstrom Library and in fall of 2007 they were married at the Speed Art Museum. Now, they are on the home stretch of their careers as students; both will receive doctorates on May 8 during UofL's doctoral hooding ceremony.
It was a long journey. Along the way, the Robinsons received some help by participating in the Southern Regional Education Board's (SREB) doctoral scholars program, part of a national initiative to boost the number of minorities with PhDs. Through the program, SREB hopes to encourage more African-Americans to become college professors. Currently, only about five percent of college professors are members of racial or ethnic minority groups.
Participants in the SREB program typically receive full tuition and an annual stipend of $15,000 to $20,000 for living expenses. Additionally, they participate annually in the Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, which brings doctoral scholars and their mentors together to develop the skills necessary to succeed in graduate school and in their careers as teachers. Funding for the program comes from charitable trusts and foundations. SREB is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with 16 member states, including Kentucky, to improve pre-K-12 and higher education.
Beth Boehm, a UofL professor of English and Interim Dean of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, was one of the people who encouraged Michelle Robinson to pursue a PhD.
Boehm said, “SREB is a great opportunity for doctoral students who are underrepresented ethnic minorities. SREB requires that its doctoral scholars want a career as university teachers and researchers in order that future students of color will have role models and mentors who look like them. Additionally, SREB helps students learn to network and helps them to develop professionally.”
That fateful first meeting between the Robinsons began with a writing assignment. Michelle, a Louisville native, worked in the Writing Center while working on a master’s degree in English. Michael, who is originally from Chicago and was pursuing a master’s degree in social work, asked Michelle for help with a paper. She obliged. As their friendship deepened, they began to meet sporadically at the writing center. When Michael needed help on a bigger paper, he made weekly appointments to meet with Michelle.
“Some people argue what the motivation for that might have been.” said Michelle.
In response, Michael laughs and says, “I needed help! Actually, I tell my classes that I teach when I send people to the writing center, I tell them don’t knock it because you never know what might happen.”
Upon receiving her degree Michelle became aware of SREB. She submitted her application and won the award. The following year Michael applied and received funding as well.
Both have accepted positions at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa. They will continue their scholarship there as they embark on this new phase of their career.
“One of the tough things about the job market when you’re married in academia is not all institutions will do spousal hires. We were fortunate the University of Alabama would do that,” Michelle said.
The Robinsons, along with 60 other doctoral students, were recognized for reaching the highest pinnacle of education during UofL’s commencement ceremony on May 8.