Pathway to Ph.D. Program (PPP) 2022 Student Spotlights

The Diversity and Culture of Inclusion (DCI) foundational component at the Internet Things for Precision Agriculture (IoT4Ag) is committed to creating mechanisms to recruit diverse individuals to the Center and to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) opportunities. One of the activities that IoT4Ag implements to recruit diverse students is through the Pathway to Ph.D. Program (PPP). PPP is a hands-on workshop designed to address the lack of awareness about the graduate school process and funding opportunities, with an emphasis on targeting students from underrepresented minority (URM) or first-generation low-income (FGLI) backgrounds.

On Saturday, September 10, 2022, IoT4Ag’s second PPP workshop was held virtually on Zoom. Participants heard interactive presentations on topics such as “Pursuing Graduate Education in STEM” and the “NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Explained.” Then, PPP participants (mentees) drafted personal and research statements. Each mentee was paired with a mentor (graduate student or postdoctoral fellow) to review the written documents. Additionally, mentors will keep in touch with mentees after the workshop ends to provide guidance as mentees submit graduate school and fellowship applications.

The two PPP mentees spotlighted in this article are Brianna McDaniel and Roger Leyba-Mercado. Brianna is an electrical engineering student at the University of Florida (UF) and Roger studies agriculture and environmental systems at University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. Both agreed to answer a few questions below.

What motivated you to apply to the PPP?

Brianna: I was motivated to apply to the PPP because I saw it as an opportunity to provide me the foundational knowledge that I need to continue my education after undergraduate school. I participated in the program as a second year. Because of this, I can plan out the rest of my undergrad according to the advice given in the PPP ahead of time. For example, PPP stressed research. Now while I am researching, I can view my work with a new focused perspective on how I am making an impact and how my research is helping me grow intellectually.

Roger: Since finding out about PPP, it seemed to be a perfect fit for me for several reasons. The program is focused on underrepresented students and being Puerto Rican felt like an opportunity to represent all other Puerto Rican students interested in graduate programs and fellowships but lack access to detailed orientation. Additionally, I was assured the program was going to be a successful one coming from a prestigious research center like IoT4Ag which I look up to.

What was your experience like as a participant of the PPP?

Brianna: My experience was nothing short of amazing. The program was so beneficial and informative. I was able to meet my amazing mentor who I will be able to be in contact with for the rest of my life. The program’s impact extends way beyond the time everyone says goodbye and will continue for a lifetime.

Roger: In general terms, the experience was very enriching. I learned the basics such as the difference between a master’s and a doctorate and acquired more detailed information which included guidance on how to write a personal statement/statement of interest. I really liked that the experience was a personalized one; I was assigned a mentor and had the opportunity to meet with him, write drafts of my statements, and receive feedback oriented toward my interests.

How will you take what you learned to apply it to advance your educational goals?

Brianna: I will plan to use the knowledge I gained in PPP when applying for grad school and preparing my experiences during undergrad to help build my resume and personal profile. I also plan to stay in contact with my mentor throughout my graduate application process. Both my mentor and I share very similar interests in research topics; therefore, I also plan on keeping up with the research he is doing simply out of my love and interest for learning.

Roger: Without a doubt, what I learned from PPP will help me get closer to my educational goals. I will be able to submit strong graduate school applications while continuing to work with my mentor in the process.

The 2022 Pathway to Ph.D. Program continues to serve as a method to increase the likelihood that diverse individuals will attend graduate school. IoT4Ag will work with an evaluator (Dr. Ayesha Boyce) to track outcomes, including graduate school application and fellowship submissions. In Spring 2023, we plan to add an in-person component to the PPP, so be on the lookout for more information.