Staying and Thriving: Cultivating Community with and for Black Women Undergraduate Students in the College of Education and Human Ecology

About the Project

As a translational research center, The Center on Education and Training for Employment leverages translational research (evidence-based interventions) to increase the well-being of communities. The community of Black women students in the College of Education and Human Ecology (EHE) has recently provided explicit feedback regarding their perceptions of a reduced sense of belonging at the university.

Consistent with research on the interests of Black women in EHE, sense of belonging is described as having a safe space; access to attentive and responsive academic advisors or mentors; and both awareness and understanding of how to access enrichment opportunities. Scholarship highlights the fact that Black women’s sense of belonging influences their abilities to successfully complete a college degree at a Predominately White Institution (PWI).

While there are many actions that can be taken to address the disparate retention and experiences of Black women students, this project will focus on providing these students with the supports they deserve and desire. To address issues related to building safe spaces and community, poor advisement or low mentorship, and lack of enrichment opportunities, participants will engage in sister circles, mentorship by a near-peer Black woman graduate student, and explicit exposure to enrichment opportunities and funding. Sister circles, specifically, will create a safe space for Black women students to commune and interact, facilitate connection with Black women staff and faculty, and overall increase participants’ sense of belonging within the College.

A multidisciplinary team of Black women researchers (EHE faculty, administrators, staff, and Center Associates) led by Principal Investigator, Dr. Kenyona Walker, Senior Project Manager and licensed School Psychologist, will implement and evaluate a 12-week, three-pronged research intervention designed to increase the sense of belonging of Black women students in EHE. This exploratory research project will pilot test the intervention and provide data to determine its effectiveness related to sense of belonging. Ultimately, the researchers aim to produce credible data that may assist EHE, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and other university leaders including the Office of Student Academic Success to create and implement policy and programming related to retention of Black undergraduate women.


Kenyona Walker, Ph.D. Principal Investigator, Project Lead
Dr. Kenyona Walker is a Senior Project Manager at the Center on Education and Training for Employment (CETE). Her passion for education and equity, led her to earn her PhD in Educational Studies, with a focus on School Psychology from The Ohio State University. She also serves as a co-leader of CETE’s Steering Team for the Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Movement. REDI is designed to increase members of the CETE community’s knowledge and skills relevant to the posture and practice of cultural humility, identify and establish anti-racist norms, practices, and policies at CETE, and contribute to the dismantling of institutional racism within CETE’s spheres of influence.

Nicole Luthy, Ph.D.
Dr. Nicole Carter Luthy is the Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Operations for the College of Education and Human Ecology. In this role, Dr. Luthy works closely with the Dean and other college leaders to set the strategic direction of the college and lead key initiatives. Over the course of her 25 years in education—which began as a classroom teacher—Dr. Luthy has focused on building partnerships among higher education institutions, K-12 schools, and community-based organizations. She has led state and national projects, served as director of a digital learning center, and collaborated with schools and community organizations to support, serve, and improve outcomes for teachers, students, and families.

Dr. Luthy holds a PhD in Teaching and Learning from the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. She also holds a B.A. from Emory University and an M.A. from The Ohio State University.

Gabrielle Hicks, Ph.D.
Dr. Gabrielle Hicks is a postdoctoral scholar at the Center on Education and Training for Employment (CETE) where she works as a member of the Equity, Engagement, and Evaluation Team under the supervision of Dr. Kenyona Walker. Gabrielle possesses a longtime passion for the pursuit of equity, social justice, and systemic change in education which led her to earn her PhD in Educational Studies, with a focus on School Psychology from The Ohio State University. Her dissertation research emphasizes the urgency to prepare school psychologists and related school-based mental health professionals for the implementation of trauma-informed practices in urban schools. Gabrielle’s collaborative research on Black girls’ counseling outcomes and the school-to-prison pipeline have been presented at national conferences for the National Association of School Psychologists as well as the American Psychological Association.

Antoinette Miranda, Ph.D.
Dr. Antoinette Miranda is chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning and is professor of School Psychology in the Department of Educational Studies. She was the first recipient (2014) of the William H. and Laceryjette V. Casto Professorship in Interprofessional Education in honor of Henry and Ruth Leuchter and Van Bogard and Geraldine Dunn. Dr. Miranda’s research interests include developing effective interventions with at-risk children in urban settings, consultation services in urban settings and the development of racial identity and its relationship to academic achievement. She is a past president of the Ohio School Psychologist Association and Trainers of School Psychologists. She also was the secretary for the Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs. Dr. Miranda was the 2014 recipient of the TSP Outstanding Trainer of the Year Award.

Jenell Igeleke Penn, Ph.D.
Dr. Jenell Igeleke Penn is a clinical assistant professor of Multicultural and Equity Studies in Education, the Assistant Director of Teacher Education, and the Director of Recruitment, Mentoring, and Retention for Diversity and Social Justice in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the Ohio State University. As a former middle and high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Igeleke Penn’s research interests center around how nurturing spaces and visibility in the areas of pedagogy and curriculum help Black teachers and Black youth to experience and share affirmation, community, joy, and liberation. In addition to her research and teaching, she co-chairs the annual Equity and Diversity Educator Conference at the Ohio State University and facilities book clubs and programming for youth in local school districts.

Melissa Ross, PsyD
Dr. Melissa Ross serves as the Associate Director of Research Partnerships and Impacts and a project director for the center’s equity, engagement and evaluation work. She received her clinical training at the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology. As Associate Director, Dr. Ross establishes and cultivates research partnerships, manages the center’s faculty/staff/student research and teaching program and supports the Associates’ engagement in research, scholarship and student instruction. As co-director of the center’s Equity, Engagement, and Evaluation program, Dr. Ross leverages her extensive experience in project management and partner relations to assist organizations and communities to achieve desired outcomes in an efficient and effective manner. Dr. Ross also spearheads The Center on Education and Training for Employment’s Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Movement and serves as an advisory member of the REDI Steering Team.