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First-Ever University of Cincinnati College of Arts and Sciences Young Alumni Award Winner Gives Back To Community

UC sociology doctoral alumna Ciera Graham continues her bridge-building efforts at Washington State University.

Date: 10/5/2016
By: Camri Nelson
Phone: (513) 556-4350
Photos By: Provided
Ciera Graham came to Cincinnati for her doctoral degree in sociology. She left after honing her skills as a coalition and community-builder among student groups and disciplines at the University of Cincinnati.

This fall, Graham, 30, receives the UC College of Arts and Sciences' first-ever Young Alumni Award for her efforts in empowering minority students to connect across disciplines and build community together.

Dr. Ciera Graham
Dr. Ciera Graham

“UC helped me with taking initiative, teaching and being a self-starter,” said Graham, who now works as associate director of Student Services at Washington State University, the school where she received her undergraduate and master’s degrees. “I also try to instill these values in the students with whom I work.”

Graham, a native of Washington, applied to multiple PhD programs but decided on UC, even though she had never been to Cincinnati before, in large part because of the Albert C. Yates Scholarship program for minority graduate students. 

“I really like UC’s commitment to recruiting and retaining the underrepresented community,” said Graham. 

While a PhD student at UC, she focused her research on the sociology of education, families, race and ethnicity. Specifically, her dissertation included a qualitative study about how African-American students at predominantly white institutions perceive the black campus organizations. She won a graduate research award and a Taft Graduate Enrichment Award to support her efforts.

Outside of classes, she regularly networked with people she thought could help move her forward professionally while also consistently lending her support to those rising through the ranks after her. Although she had a heavy course load, she worked part-time at the Career Development Center and at the Learning Assistance Center. 

“I didn’t want to stay in this silo and just go to school all day,” she said of her outreach work. “You have to be a self-starter and take the initiative.” 

Aside from working at the two centers, she also taught classes as well as audited them. She enjoyed auditing a course led by Edward Wallace, an associate professor of Africana Studies because of his non-traditional teaching style and his deliberate efforts to get students to think. She also enjoyed the opportunity to connect with and serve as a mentor to the upper-division undergraduate students. 

She set to work on building a sense of community among black graduate students on campus and found a supportive advisor in Marilyn Kershaw, who serves as the College of Arts and Sciences' chief diversity officer and director of the A&S Office of Diversity and Access. Once the graduate students started to rebuild the Black Graduate Student Association, Graham took on the role of vice president. 

In her role at Washington State University, Graham is focused on helping build the student culture and student engagement. Her work includes promoting awareness of sexual assault, health and wellness, student activities, career development and job placement. She said her time in Cincinnati prepared her well for the diverse challenges she faces every day. 

As an accomplished young alumna, Graham stresses the importance of giving back to the institutions that have supported her. All young alumni have skill sets and creativity that can benefit their alma maters in innovative ways, and by giving back, young alumni set powerful examples for current students and the broader community, she said.