Open Doors Summer Research Program

Too few undergraduate students appreciate that they can successfully pursue research to realize their passions and too few students of color pursue graduate research degrees. The Open Doors program, a collaboration among faculty and graduate students at Norfolk State University (NSU), Virginia State University (VSU) and the University of Virginia (UVA), is taking an important step to address these issues.

Open Doors initiated in 2021 with funding from the Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of Open Doors was to identify students from HBCUs who seemed curious about graduate school and create an opportunity for them to try their hand at research in a facilitated environment.

The work began as a result of the efforts of a design team that began meeting in February 2021 and included members from all three universities.

 Norfolk State University:

o Dr. Derrick Lanois, faculty, NSU

o Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, Dean College of Liberal Arts, NSU

o Dr. Chinedu Okala, Associate Dean, NSU;

Virginia State University

o Dr. Ayana Conway, faculty, VSU; 

o Dr. Omar Faison, VPR, VSU; 

o Dr. Naha Farhat, faculty, VSU; 

o Dr. Willis Walter, Dean School of Education, VSU

o Dr. Isis Walton, Dean College of Graduate Studies, VSU

University of Virginia, School of Education and Human Development (SEHD)

o Dr. Abigail Kayser, post-doctoral fellow UVA

o Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman, faculty, UVA

o Dr. James Wyckoff, faculty, UVA

Together, the members of the design team strived to build a program in which students could:

-engage in the research and writing process that will lead to a research product and presentation that reflects their strengths, interests, and goals;

-gain a deeper understanding of the opportunities available to them in graduate school; 

-have the opportunity to examine the complexities and multiple layers of their intersectional identities, identify assets and cultural wealth, and identify academic strengths and areas of growth; and

-build relationships with faculty and graduate student mentors.

Important to all members of the design team was that this be a true collaboration among the faculty and graduate students at NSU, VSU and UVA.

Focus of Open Doors

The first Open Doors Program occurred in the Summer of 2020. The seminars and conversations included discussion of how their interests could find expression in research. The faculty and doctoral students leading seminars and conversation supported the scholars to see that that these skills were within their reach. Scholars received background on the research process and produced a literature review on a topic of their choice. They then developed a presentation based upon their literature reviews. The curriculum also included discussions of graduate school and, when appropriate, what steps they could take to facilitate their application to graduate school. For a more detailed description of the program see the Open Doors Handbook. 

To realize these goals, the program was designed as a four-week program beginning the first week in June. Open Doors included a week of three one-hour seminars per day, two weeks of mentored independent work, concluding with a week of three one-hour seminars per day including scholar presentations of their literature reviews. The program included 12 rising juniors at NSU (6) and VSU (6), four faculty mentors (2 from NSU and 2 from VSU), a graduate student coordinator (VSU) and 6 graduate student mentors (2 NSU, 1 VSU and 3 UVA), and numerous seminar leaders drawn from faculty and graduate students at NSU, VSU and UVA. 

Program Support

Faculty and graduate students gave generously of their time to support the development and implementation of Open Doors. The program was able to provide financial support to, the undergraduate Open Doors Fellows, some graduate students and faculty who were heavily involved in the delivery of the program. 

Next Steps

Surveys of participating scholars, graduate student mentors and participating faculty all indicated that the program realized its goals and the design around a literature review should remain. They also thought that based on this years’ experience, improvements could be made for next year.

We plan to continue the program in 2022 and would like to open the program to a range of students interested in exploring graduate school, including students with diverse research interests, e.g., education, psychology and public policy. In addition, we will modify the program to accommodate two weeks of on grounds visits by VSU and NSU faculty and students. 

Please reach out to Jamie Inlow ( with questions. Information about applying to Open Doors for Summer 2022 will be available in early 2022.