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Emerging Scholars Workshop prepares underrepresented SEC students for next step in their careers

The workshop prepared 140 graduate students to enter faculty ranks and, hopefully, increase faculty diversity in the conference.

Since 2011, the Southeastern Conference has made an intentional effort to promote and develop academic excellence within its 14 affiliate universities through support of its faculty and students’ teaching, research, service and learning. By hosting its first Emerging Scholars workshop Sept. 29-30, the conference provided professional development and networking opportunities to 140 underrepresented doctoral and post-doctoral students. In preparing these students for the next step in their careers, it also hoped to recruit these students by showing them just how excellent it is to be a faculty member in the SEC.

The virtual workshop was hosted by Louisiana State University and supported by a planning committee of provost-appointed representatives from all 14 SEC institutions. The workshop’s two days alternated between presentations focused on professional development and breakout sessions that paired 4-5 scholars with faculty and administrators from the SEC institutions. Each day ended with time for scholars to visit several university rooms to learn more about working at each institution and its local community.

Nine University of South Carolina students attended the workshop. Quin Cureton, a third-year doctoral student in the UofSC College of Education, says the experience “opened doors” for him to contact other institutions, and led to more clarity in what he wanted to do following the completion of his doctorate.

“Before attending this whole workshop, I was on the edge of whether tenure track was even something I still wanted to pursue,” he says. “And so, I would say the whole workshop was motivating to me. It pushed me to start looking at myself and my work and reinforced that I’m capable of pursuing that path.”

The two days offered graduate students plenty of opportunities to interact with each other and ask questions of administrators and faculty members. But it also focused on the minute details of entering academia that many of the attendees otherwise would not have known.

“Many of these scholars may have interviewed for jobs in their lives,” says Cheryl Addy, vice provost at UofSC and member of the workshop’s official planning committee. “They may have even interviewed for their doctoral position. But they’ve never interviewed for a faculty position. So, I really do think it was very, very helpful in preparing them for what’s next.”

Along with helping students prepare application essentials likes teaching and diversity statements, UofSC Vice Provost Tracey Weldon says the workshop’s breakout sessions gave attendees an opportunity to “peak behind the curtain” and understand what employers are looking for when hiring faculty.

“It was an opportunity for me to be honest about what employers are looking for, the dos and don’ts of campus visits and interviews,” says Weldon, who is also the dean of South Carolina’s Graduate School. “So, I think they appreciated it and the feedback so far has been very positive.”

The Emerging Scholars Workshop is the newest opportunity being offered by the SEC in support of its faculty, staff and students. Despite just beginning, it holds tremendous potential to achieve one of the conference’s largest goals — increasing diversity throughout its faculty ranks.

“I think there’s a lot of attention on making sure that our faculty reflect our student body,” Weldon says. “And as our students become progressively more diverse, we need to make sure that the faculty are moving in that direction as well. If you think about who we are as an SEC conference and where we are located, there’s really no reason why we shouldn’t have that diversity reflected in our faculty, staff and student bodies.”

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