Spotlight on Erika Aparaka and Shawnisha Hester at 2018 Understanding Interventions Conference in Baltimore, MD

The Understanding Interventions (UI) that Broaden Participation in Science Careers conference, focused on ongoing research on how to intervene in STEM education in order to increase positive student outcomes in STEM-related fields, was held this year between March 2-4, 2018. Two PROMISE graduate student team members had the opportunity attended and present ongoing research on behalf of the National Science Foundation sponsored University System of Maryland (USM) PROMISE Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) institutions.


Erika Aparaka, M.Ed., M.A. a PhD candidate in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park, presented a 20 minute talk entitled, “Using Alternative Space and a Psychological Sense of Community within Underrepresented Minority Student Professional Development to Aid Student Retention and Reduce Attrition”. Her early Sunday morning talk discussed PROMISE’s annual Summer Success Institute (SSI), SSI’s role as a third space for underrepresented minority (URM) students in USM institutions, and SSI’s success in providing a motivational space for mentors to inspire degree completion and future academic aspirations in URM STEM students. Mrs. Aparaka found the conference to be a “great opportunity to learn about the research and efforts around increasing equity and opportunity [in education] through programmatic interventions” similar to the PROMISE alternative spaces she is analyzing in her dissertation work. Further, she was invited to present her research as a poster at the California AGEP National Research Conference.


Shawnisha Hester, LGSW, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Language, Literacy, and Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, presented a poster Saturday evening entitled, “The Role of Social Media in Increasing Psychological Sense of Community and Cultural Capital: A Grounded Theory Approach”. Her poster illustrated how PROMISE’s use of the social media hashtag #ThinkBigDiversity can aid in fostering a positive psychological sense of community and the gain of cultural capital for URM students. While Ms. Hester says she went into the conference “a bit nervous about conveying [her] information in an accurate and professional way”, but left “feeling inspired and invigorated with what the possibilities of my contributions to the next conference will be.” This was her third time attending the UI conference, but first time attending as a presenter.

Both Erika and Shawnisha’s presentations analyzed the professional development programming provided by the National Science Foundation’s PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education & the Professoriate (AGEP) program, in which they participate in the student community and as UMBC-based team members under the direction of Dr. Renetta Tull. They found the opportunity to present at the UI conference to provided additional presentation practice, mentoring, and networking opportunities to what PROMISE strives to offer every student in its community.

–  Denise Williams

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