Dr. Tamara Baker is a University of Kansas faculty member in the Department of Psychology, as well as the director of the KU Gerontology Program. Since joining KU’s faculty ranks five years ago, Dr. Baker has been an instrumental partner to the KU TRIO McNair Scholars Program. During her time on campus, Dr. Baker has mentored a number of McNair Scholars to help expose them to research and scholarship around health disparities.
The mission of the KU TRIO McNair Scholars Program is to diversify the academic and research fields by preparing low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented college students to receive a Ph.D.
At KU, the McNair Program provides a variety of services and resources, to assists undergraduate KU students from underrepresented groups prepare for graduate school by completing summer research internships, providing tutoring and GRE test preparation, and opportunties to present their research.
When students arrive at their first meeting with their research faculty mentor, they have already had extensive preparation through workshops, and personal advising. Dr. Baker is a woman of color and is able to offer support to other young women of color which extends beyond logistical preparation for a career in academia, “I can have candid conversations with them about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Things that I had to go through — that I’ve had these experiences, but also overcome them.”
As an established scholar in her field, Dr. Baker has more than 20 years of research experience to help guide and advise McNair Scholars in their pursuit of undergraduate research experiences. She mentors these early scholars through the process of forming valid research questions. After the research has been conducted, she works extensively with her students to develop and submit manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
Throughout her mentoring relationships, Dr. Baker said she has become the beneficiary of unintended perks, “I’ve learned a lot more from them [McNair Scholars] than they have from me!” For instance, Dr. Baker was pleasantly surprised when a McNair Scholar challenged her on the consideration of a particular variable in her study of literacy and mental health stigma in the African American community. This was a variable that Dr. Baker hadn’t previously considered. Dr. Baker said this exchange of scholarly ideas highlights the process behind cultivating and fostering scientific minds.
Preparing for graduate school can be an overwhelming and arduous process. Having a team of caring advisors and mentors through initiatives like the McNair Scholars Program can make all the difference for students who are underrepresented in graduate education. Beyond the intellectual enrichment offered by McNair faculty mentors, connections and recommendations are other central aspects of the mentoring relationship, “Being in academia, it’s all about networking and forming these relationships. So, if you have a relationship with a “Dr. Baker” or faculty member who knows you and can write those letters of recommendation. Joining the McNair Scholars Program is a win-win situation.”