“The Jessica Effect” is a conceptual method of student engagement that is being used to mentor underrepresented graduate students at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC: An Honors University in Maryland), and within the University System of Maryland as part of the National Science Foundation’s project, PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP). The concept was recently mentioned at the White House College Opportunity Initiative workshop held at UMBC in 2014, and again during The Atlantic’s discussion, “A New America: Empowering Hispanic Millennials for Tech Leadership.” Dr. Renetta Tull and her colleagues at UMBC developed “The Jessica Effect” in memory of a beloved graduate student, Jessica Soto Pérez, who was tragically killed in 2004. In memory of Jessica, Tull and colleagues developed a series of initiatives for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty, that include family as part of the academic experience. In the paper, “The Jessica Effect: Valuing Cultural and Familial Connections to Broaden Success in Academe,” (Tull, Ordóñez, Carter-Johnson, Zayas, Byars-Winston and Cortes-Rodriguez, 2014), Tull and colleagues make the following statements:
“Students bring their values to graduate school, and these values shape their performance and socialization into their departments and their graduate communities. However, values for minority students are thought to be shaped differently from those of majority students. Recent literature suggests that graduate students from “collectivist cultures” (e.g., Latino, African American) place strong emphasis on personal relationships in school, which may interfere with internally focused and task-driven characteristics that are needed for graduate school success. This is different from students from an individualist culture who may instead place more focus on traditional activities associated with advanced graduate work, and less focus on relationships to others in the program (Taylor and Antony 2000; Davidson and Foster-Johnson, 2001).”
The Jessica Effect is being shared nationally with colleges and universities who are seeking alternate approaches to valuing, engaging, and retaining underrepresented students in all disciplines, but particularly in STEM where methods to increase the pipeline seem to be needed most.
Florida International University
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