The first time I felt alone was in 2006, as an incoming pre-forensic and investigative science major at WVU. It was my first time away from where I grew up in Rockville, Maryland. I dove headfirst into my new academic territory. I may have felt alone, but I was not lonely, making friends and beginning to carve my path as a student leader. I became a member of the Resident Hall Student Conduct Board and walked on to the women’s rowing team. By junior year, being a student-athlete became too much. I stopped rowing, changed my major to criminology and investigations, picked up a minor in professional writing and editing and threw myself even deeper into my studies. Senior year, I worked for the University as a student counselor with the Student Communications Center. Working for WVU truly made an everlasting mark on my time there, allowing me to become a representative for the University I had come to love. I felt like I was a role model not only to my peers, but to future generations of Mountaineers, which was exciting.
Then came my final semester at WVU in 2010, when I accepted an offer from the master’s program with the Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. With nothing but my academic achievements, and one too many suitcases, I made the journey to Chicago. Once again, I was alone. New city. New people. New experiences. But like my time at WVU, I immediately came to realize I was not lonely, immersing myself in the campus atmosphere to make friends and to begin to shape my role as a student leader. With no football team at UIC, I became the cheerleader for my department, putting a pep-like emphasis on creating mentoring partnerships and social events to help keep spirits high and students motivated.
As my time as a master’s student came to an end, I was unsure of what I wanted to do next. I decided there was no better fit but to continue in academia. I applied to the Ph.D. program in my department and was accepted shortly after. The decision to get my Ph.D. was not so much about figuring out what to do with my life, about harboring my passion for education, and seizing the leadership opportunities presented to me. On the day of my master’s graduation, I saw an undergraduate student who I had the fortune of teaching through my teaching assistantship earlier in the year. As we passed each other before crossing the stage to receive our respective diplomas, she ran to me and said, “Joanna! We did it! I would not be here if it wasn’t for you helping me in class. Thank you!” It was at that moment I knew I made the right choice of continuing on my path through academia.
Since beginning my Ph.D. in the spring of 2012, I continue to serve the campus of UI as a student, teaching assistant and student leader. I am thankful my service to the UIC community has been highlighted by those around me. I have received multiple service awards from my department and, in the past two years, I have been nominated for and won the UIC Chancellor’s Student Service Leadership Award. In addition, as a student leader, my main priority is the Graduate Student Council. This is the governing body that represents every graduate student at UIC. I was recently elected president, which has allowed me to not only continue to engage with students, but administrators as well.
My passion for academia also shines through the opportunities I have to share my research – which examines the bullying and harassment of mixed-race college students – with others both inside and outside of the United States. I have presented at annual meetings of the American Society of Criminology and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association; and this fall, I traveled to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to participate in a research symposium through a formal invitation from the assistant dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service. During the summer of 2014, I spent a month studying abroad at the University of Leeds in England; and this past May, I traveled to Toronto, Canada, for the MIXED Conference, where I was on a panel and facilitated discussions about the intersections of mixed-race.
I will be honest, there were and are still days when being alone has been lonely. Being a nerdy workaholic is not easy. But for me, that comes with being a true and successful leader. The work I do is empowering, and it makes me happy. I have been able to turn my passion for academia into a career path and a genuine leadership opportunity. By the end of 2016, I hope to complete my Ph.D., get a job as a full-time professor and continue to carve out my success as a leader in academia. I may be alone. But being surrounded by great family, friends, students, and colleagues, near and far … I am never lonely.