Project Pathways Class of 2020 and Their Journey Forward

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By Regi Reyes

The BUILD program at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA), Project Pathways, celebrated the graduation of the class of 2020 with a video featuring clips of staff and faculty wishing them well on their journey forward. As they settle into their graduate programs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, these recent graduates are excited about what the future holds. 

XULA graduate Rhea Harrison

Rhea Harrison is one such student who has begun her graduate program. Harrison is attending Fiske University after graduating a year early from Xavier University of Louisiana. She wants to earn her master’s degree in clinical psychology and later get her Ph.D. so she can become a licensed psychologist. She hopes that she can serve individuals who might not be able to access mental health care otherwise. 

“Without being mentally healthy, it’s hard to be physically healthy. We forget how important [mental health] is. We will see a doctor for physical ailments, but we forget to see therapists for mental ailments.” Harrison said.

Harrison’s first classes in grad school are online, with occasional meet-ups with her professors. Most of her professors have their own practices and she  is excited to be exposed to a more clinical setting as she completes her degree. 

Though Harrison was accepted into a few graduate programs, she knew that she wanted to continue her education at an HBCU- especially after experiencing the sense of community at Xavier. What solidified her choice in Fiske was being interviewed by and introduced to Black women, giving her a glimpse into her professional future. The tight campus community and her small cohort also help her feel like her needs will be met. 

Harrison says that she already misses her professors and peers from Xavier. 

She shared, “Xavier taught me what it was like to have a family and to have a village and a community of people who actually care about me. Xavier taught me things I never learned about before. Not only did I get an education, I learned how to be successful.” 

Since Harrison graduated a year early, she regrets being unable to participate in more research opportunities as an undergraduate. She joined the BUILD program at Xavier specifically to have more exposure to research projects in her senior year. On her own time, she even did a literature review on subjects that interested her. She hopes that when her career is established, she can return to researching those subjects as a professional. 

XULA graduate Ashley Mello

Ashley Mello, another 2020 Project Pathways graduate, is also preparing to take the next steps in her educational journey. She is currently attending the University of Michigan for its biomedical sciences Ph.D. program. Her orientation will be held online and doesn’t start until next week. Her grad school is doing a mixture of in-person classes and labs and online learning. 

Mello graduated with a bachelor’s of science in biochemistry. She has always been interested in the research side of science and medicine as she enjoys studying beyond the textbook and learning about life itself. While working with her mentor at Xavier, Thomas Huckaba, Ph.D., she enjoyed researching protein reactions as a result of Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, a neurogenerative disease that affects the lower limbs. At the University of Michigan, she has chosen immunology as her primary program of interest and is looking forward to learning about the complexities of the human immune system. 

Although Mello isn’t sure yet what specialty she will ultimately choose, she is happy to explore different avenues of research while she figures out her path. During her time as a student, she wants to increase transparency between science and the public, as she hopes that a better relationship with the community will increase general health knowledge.  

This drive to improve influenced her decision to attend Xavier University of Louisiana as an undergrad and the University of Michigan for graduate school. 

“If you wanna be the best, you have to learn from the best,” Mellow said.

Eventually, Mello has dreams of establishing a STEM outreach program, similar to STEM NOLA, a nonprofit organization in New Orleans that seeks to engage with and expose local children to the STEM fields to spark interest for future innovators. Mello herself wasn’t exposed to STEM until she started at Xavier, and she hopes that she can help youth, particularly minorities, find a passion in the sciences. 

Mello and Harrison might be on very different paths, but their interest in research and improving the world around them promises great things. They and the rest of the class of 2020 are headed out into the world at a pivotal time in history, and we wish them continued success as they shape the future of STEM and research in the Biomedical fields. 

Congratulations again to the class of 2020!

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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