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VITAL Scholars pose for a large group photo.

UB welcomed 35 scholars as part of its Visiting Future Faculty Program (VITAL). Photo: Douglas Levere

Published October 31, 2023


UB’s VITAL scholars return to campus

UB’s Visiting Future Faculty program returned for an encore as 35 outstanding doctoral students were on campus from Oct. 15-20 as part of an initiative to increase the number of faculty at UB from traditionally underrepresented populations in North America.

The Visiting Future Faculty, or VITAL, program, a three-year pilot program developed by the Office of the Provost and the Office of Inclusive Excellence, has brought these scholars to UB to expose them to research and teaching opportunities at the university, and to support them as the next generation of faculty.

All 35 scholars—ABD (all but dissertation) candidates in doctoral programs in any field who intend to pursue academic careers—are involved in research activities across a broad range of disciplines ranging from the humanities to STEM fields. While at UB, they presented talks on their research and work to UB students and faculty, as well as met with UB administrators, toured Buffalo and attended receptions at local restaurants.

“VITAL is a reflection of UB’s commitment to increasing the diversity of faculty members,” said Jacqueline Hollins, interim vice provost for inclusive excellence. “A primary goal of VITAL is to provide the scholars with thoughtful and constructive feedback on their research and connection to a campus community that values and affirms their identities and scholarship.”

The VITAL program also introduces the scholars to the robust research and teaching opportunities available at UB, as well as Buffalo’s rich history and culture, according to Hollins.

“Our hope is to cultivate positive and sustainable relationships among VITAL scholars, UB faculty and UB students, which in turn will position the scholars to serve as UB ambassadors,” she said.

Feedback from previous VITAL scholars has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Hollins noted.

“I think I can speak for all the VITAL scholars when I say this week was probably one of the top events we will have during our doctoral careers,” one former scholar said. “I am so thankful that I was able to participate.”

Several VITAL scholars in previous cohorts of the program have been hired at UB:

  • Isabel Anadon, assistant professor, Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences (spring 2022 cohort).
  • Gladys Camacho Rios, visiting assistant professor, Department of Linguistics, College of Arts and Sciences (spring 2022 cohort).
  • Daniela Goya Tocchetto, assistant professor, Department of Organization and Human Resources, School of Management (fall 2022 cohort).
  • Brittany Jones, assistant professor, Department of Learning and Instruction, Graduate School of Education (fall 2022 cohort).
  • Waylon Wilson, digital archivist, Department of Indigenous Studies, College of Arts and Sciences (fall 2022 cohort).

This year, UB’s Graduate School of Education represented the largest number of VITAL scholars, including:

Hector Diaz.

Hector Diaz (he/him/el), higher education administration, University of South Carolina

Hector Diaz is a PhD candidate in the Educational Leadership and Policy program at the University of South Carolina. His research interests are colorism in the LatinX community, AfroLatinX college students and STEM education for LatinX undergraduates. Diaz hopes to become a faculty member at a research university where contributions to addressing educational inequities can be made, as researching college access and career development of LatinX undergraduates can aid in addressing inequities faced by the LatinX college-going population.

Khrysta Evans.

Khrysta Evans (she/her), education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Khrysta A. Evans is a PhD candidate in educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Evans uses a Black geographic lens to explore the relationship between Black girls’ geographies and the organizational routines of their schools, understand the role of peer groups in Black girls’ development of knowledge about the spaces that they create and occupy in schools, and attend to the influence of ethnicity in Black girls’ racialized and gendered socialization within schools. Her work has been funded by the Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World initiative; the American Educational Research Association’s minority dissertation travel award; and the departments of Educational Policy Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies at Wisconsin-Madison. After finishing her doctorate, Evans will pursue a tenure-track professorship in education, women’s studies and/or Black studies to train and learn with future generations of students who center Black girls’ humanity in their research and practice.

Rubén González.

Rubén González, race, inequality, and language in education, Stanford University

Rubén González is a PhD candidate in race, inequality and language in education at Stanford University, where he also earned a master’s degree in sociology. His research explores how students and teachers of color develop, sustain and operationalize a critical sociopolitical disposition in classroom, school and larger community settings. Prior to pursuing his graduate studies, González taught high school English and English language development. He completed his bachelor’s degree in English at Sacramento State University after transferring from Hartnell College. His scholarship has been supported by California State University chancellor’s doctoral incentive program fellowship, the Stanford graduate public service fellowship, the graduate student fellowship and the Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship. At the statewide level, González serves on the Education Trust–West’s (ETW) Educator Advisory Council (EAC). In local community settings, González has organized with the Association of Raza Educators (ARE) Sacramento and Ethnic Studies Now (ESN) Sacramento.

Katherine (Katy) Lebioda.

Katherine (Kati) Lebioda (she/her), higher education, University of Michigan Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education

Katherine (Kati) Lebioda (she/her) is a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, where her research focuses on the nexus between postsecondary structures and individuals, the importance of relationships and community for societal transformation, marginalized people’s strategies of resistance and survivance, and how we can dream and enact a more humanizing postsecondary education. Her dissertation is a participatory action research study that uses digital storytelling to facilitate a conversation with racially minoritized students about their experiences with diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. She previously worked as a research and policy analyst for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and also has experience working in both graduate and undergraduate admissions at George Washington University and the University of Michigan, respectively. She intends to pursue a tenure-track faculty position where she can continue developing her research agenda and pedagogical praxis.

Terrance Lewis.

Terrance Lewis (he/him), social science education, Auburn University

Terrance Lewis is a Presidential Research Fellow at Auburn University and is completing a PhD in social science education. Before enrolling at Auburn, he taught U.S. government, geography and Georgia studies for four years at the high school and middle school levels in Columbus, Ga., where he also served as student council sponsor, robotics coach and wrestling coach. Terrance studies race and Black education, with research interests in the pedagogical practices of Black men teachers and teacher-coaches, teaching with documentary film, and Black history education. His future plans include securing a tenure-track faculty position where he can continue to engage in work aligned with his research interests. A firm believer that a life spent serving others is a life well lived, Lewis enjoys mentoring and molding those who follow in his footsteps.

Robson Martins de Araujo Junior.

Robson Martins de Araujo Junior (he/him/ele), teaching, learning, and technology, Lehigh University

Robson Martins de Araujo Junior is a Brazilian PhD candidate in teaching, learning and technology at Lehigh University. Junior is also a licentiate BA in English language and literature with a distance education graduate degree. Junior’s research interests focus on fostering agentic strategies and using gameful and immersive technologies for lifelong learning. He develops virtual environments to improve one’s cognitive, affective and psychomotor outcomes and engagement, from formal to informal learning settings. Since 2019, Junior has been an active member of the international Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN). In 2022, he received iLRN’s Innovation in Higher Education Award and a Best Academic Reviewer nomination. At Lehigh, Junior received the 2022 Graduate Life Leadership Award and the 2023 Graduate Research Competition People’s Choice award. Junior plans to continue in academia and write a book on the semiotics of quotidian life and the mechanisms of RPG video games.

Khadejah Ray.

Khadejah Ray (she/her), educational leadership and policy analysis, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Khadejah Ray is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. She earned a BA in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was a McNair Research Scholar. Additionally, she earned an MS in educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison. Broadly, her research interests include: the racialized histories of academic disciplines, doctoral socialization, and the sociology of higher education. Her dissertation research, supported by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Minority Dissertation Fellowship, examines how Black doctoral students are socialized into the academic and professional norms of sociology as a discipline.

Luz Robinson.

Luz Robinson (she/her), school psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Luz E. Robinson is a third-year doctoral candidate in school psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For the last five years, she has worked as a research assistant in Dorothy Espelage’s Research Addressing Violence in Education (RAVE) lab and has disseminated research on youth violence prevention. She has co-authored 25 peer-reviewed publications, eight book chapters and over a dozen conference submissions. Her research interests include understanding protective factors to improve outcomes for Latinx and other historically marginalized students in schools and clinical settings. Her clinical work as a bilingual mental health therapist providing culturally responsive mental health services to Latinx youth and families informs her research. She also co-teaches an upstream suicide prevention course at UNC for undergraduate students and was recently awarded a Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Blake Thompson.

Blake Thompson, curriculum, instruction and teacher education, Michigan State University

Blake Thompson is currently a doctoral student at Michigan State University in the Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education program. His areas of interest lie at the intersections of critical curriculum and Blackness throughout the Atlantic World, while centering the epistemologies and ontologies of Black folks. While pursuing his PhD, he serves as the director of social studies curriculum at Collegiate Academies Schools in New Orleans, Louisiana. In his role with Collegiate Academies, he works to create experiences that seek to engage Black youth in critical analysis of themselves and communities. He previously taught secondary social studies in both urban and rural contexts, and served as a social studies department lead, founding social studies teacher and founding head football coach at Livingston Collegiate Academy. Thompson seeks to collaboratively create curricula that provides space for Black youth to engage in critical conversations that lead to tangible change. Although academia is not off the table, Thompson knows his work remains in the community with schools, youth and families.

Randi Williams.

Randi Williams (she/her), media arts and sciences, MIT

Randi Williams is a PhD candidate in the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab. Williams earned her SM from MIT and, before that, a BS in computer engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Williams studies AI, robotics, human-computer interaction and computing education, with a focus on serving students from historically marginalized backgrounds. Her projects on social robot learning companions (PopBots) and grade school AI + ethics curricula (How to Train Your Robot) have received coverage from outlets such as The Atlantic, Wired and the MIT Tech Review. She is affiliated with MIT's RAISE initiative and is a founding director of the Boston chapter of Black in Robotics. She has received numerous awards, including the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship, Cambridge Curious Scientist of the Year Award, LEGO Papert Fellowship, and NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

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