Precious Lewis- Student Spotlight

February 24, 2014

Precious Lewis, a VCU senior, was awarded a research fellowship at Northwestern University Summer Research Opportunity Program.  With three majors--African American Studies, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, and History--this ambitious VCU student sought an applied summer research experience that complemented the conceptual and theoretical perspectives discussed in her African American Studies courses during the academic year. Northwestern University offered such an opportunity for Precious. During her summer fellowship, Precious worked alongside Dr. Sherwin Bryant in the African American Studies department where she developed an extensive bibliography on slavery in the Americas and wrote a historiography on slavery in the British Caribbean. The summer fellowship at Northwestern also provided Precious with preparatory classes for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and forums on applying and thriving in graduate school.

We asked Precious for advice she would share with other African American Studies students seeking similar research opportunities.

“In order to be successful you have to position yourself for success. As a freshman, I was a research assistant to Dr. Nick Smart at The College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, NY. As a transfer student I was told that I would possibly need to stay an extra year to graduate. I was determined to graduate in May 2014! During my years at Virginia Commonwealth University I utilized my time to take upper level courses and to grow as a scholar. Not only did I go to Barbados as a study abroad student but I also connected with professors who could see growth in me as a scholar. This is important for recommendation purposes but also because professors have resources that as a student you may not have. For instance at Northwestern University one of my mentors was known in the African American Studies department because of his work. I would suggest students to be competitive not just grade-wise but to also get involved in organizations and community outreach. Take leadership roles even if you're scared, the worse thing you can ever do is to doubt yourself. Programs such as Northwestern University’s SROP wanted to see that you have experience as a researcher and have taken steps towards positioning yourself to be a graduate student.”

Precious had already completed a research project at her previous college, the College of New Rochelle, and she knew that another opportunity would set her apart in applying to graduate school. So we asked her how this summer research experience prepared her for the next step: graduate school?

“Northwestern University is a highly esteemed university because of its rigorous programs and great professors. This summer research program pushed me to work harder, not only on my writing and research skills but on how I express myself. The conversations I had with other young scholars motivated me to push myself beyond mediocrity. Most of all I want to mentor other young students. There are many people who want to further themselves but don't feel good enough. Race, class, and gender determines what type of education a person may receive but a good mentor will tell a person that success isn't a one way street and if you keep driving you'll finally find your destination. Dr. Courtney Patterson taught me so much at Northwestern University and because of her and Dr. Isaac I won't give up on my dream of obtaining a Ph.D. in African American studies.”

Having two prestigious projects to her credit, Precious says she learned three things during Northwestern University’s competitive program:  perseverance, determination and patience.  These three things helped her surmount some challenges and difficulties during the fellowship, especially when her assigned mentor was busy with other projects. During this time, Precious became proactive and connected with other professors at the University who “taught me how to navigate the difficult situation and how to communicate more effectively with my mentor. When I wanted to give up she pushed me to look for the resources I needed to grow as a scholar outside of what I was use to. Although I did not have the most positive experience with the professor I was assigned to work with the staff at Northwestern University helped me in more ways than I imagined. The program purpose is to get underrepresented groups to pursue Graduate studies and to overcome obstacles that may be a hindrance, I believe that overall the support I received from the SROP program staff helped me to grow as a scholar and person.”

Certainly, Precious’s diligence, hard work, and determined attitude have enhanced her opportunities for success.  She thanks Dr. Aashir Nasim and Dr. Bernard Moitt for their guidance throughout her studies at VCU.  Precious encourages her fellow students to pursue their dreams by applying to this fellowship and others.  She says, “Apply, Apply, Apply!  You never know if you like something unless you try, and you will never succeed, if you don’t take chances and risks.”

Dr. Awendela Grantham contributed to this story. Dr. Grantham received her Ph.D. in French and African American Studies from Yale University.