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DIANA BRYANT The coordinator of a University of Iowa summer research program welcomes underrepresented students with open arms, resulting in a greater pursuit of graduate education.

Recently, Diana Bryant received a message on Facebook from a male student who was in the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) in the mid-1990s.

The correspondence was brief, but heartfelt: I miss my mom.

Those four words exemplify Bryant’s impact on her students’ lives. She is more than just the coordinator of what’s now the SROP/McNair Scholars Program, which is administered by the University of Iowa Office of Graduate Ethnic Inclusion (OGEI).

Bryant opens up her life to these underrepresented undergraduate students from other universities who are pursuing eight-week summer research projects at The University of Iowa. Students come from as far away as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Some students go to church with Bryant, while others spend time at her house. Bryant doesn’t mind letting her students see her as more than an administrator.

“Some will refer to me as ‘mom’ or ‘auntie,’” says Bryant, a program associate with OGEI. “They look at me as more than just an administrator of the program, and I can appreciate that. This is important when establishing a sense of community for underrepresented students, which is what OGEI is all about. They’ve gone away from home, and sometimes they need to have interaction with someone who is kind of like a mother or an aunt.”

Bryant, a 1978 UI graduate, has worked on programming for graduate and professional students at the University since 1987. James Jakobsen, then a Graduate College associate dean, solicited her support in working with SROP.

Jakobsen served as Bryant’s mentor as she became familiar with the program.

“Under his guidance, I watched the program grow significantly,” Bryant says. “I could see what it meant for students. I knew SROP/McNair was a really strong program and very significant in the lives of students.”

Bryant is constantly reminded of the program’s importance.

“Over the years, I have seen the results of our program and been very proud to see so many students go on to graduate school programs,” Bryant says.

There were 45 students in the SROP/McNair Scholars Program last summer, up from 30 or so in past years. Bryant currently is reviewing applications for this summer’s class.

A few students who went through the SROP/McNair Program in the last two years have notified Bryant that they are visiting the UI campus for interviews as part of the admission process to various graduate programs.

That is a reflection of Bryant’s work with the students.

“Ms. Bryant has exposed me to all that I needed for graduate school and I am very grateful for that,” says Indira Turney, a 2009 SROP/McNair student from the University of the Virgin Islands at St. Croix. “(Last) summer was the best one ever, and I would not give it up for the world. To show her my thanks, I will succeed.”

Bryant received a formal thank you for her efforts last October, earning a Board of Regents Staff Excellence Award for 2008–09. The Board of Regents, in cooperation with the staff councils of Iowa’s public universities and special schools, annually recognizes staff for outstanding accomplishments and contributions to the institutions as well as the State of Iowa.

Public recognition is meaningful and appreciated, but Bryant really loves the continued contact with past students—hearing that the program played a significant role in their decisions and accomplishments.

“Mrs. Bryant has been a breath of fresh air. She presented me opportunities that I would have never known about otherwise,” says Dorian Richardson, a 2009 SROP/McNair student from North Carolina A&T University. “She is someone you can go to and she will go out of her way to help you. She is one of those people a student needs to be able to matriculate successfully.”

Bryant, a Waterloo native, came to the University in 1972 as a student and worked in the financial aid office with the MLK program, a source of funding for minority students.

After graduating in 1978, Bryant continued with graduate school course work while working at the Iowa Memorial Union in event services. She left Iowa City in 1982, only to later accept a position in Student Health Service in 1986. She then took a job in the Office of Special Support Services in 1987. In 1994, her position was transferred to the Graduate College.

“I liked this environment. I liked that it’s an educational environment,” Bryant says of the University. “It’s a low-key environment to raise kids and wasn’t far from home.”

Bryant is quick to sing the praises of Iowa City and The University of Iowa when helping the SROP/McNair students adjust to a new environment.

“Many are concerned about racism and acceptance. Their perception is that it must be very racist, and they’re going to run into a lot of problems,” Bryant says. “When they leave, they take from here what they came for—preparation for graduate school. In fact, many of our students learn to love Iowa City and can see themselves here in graduate school, and many do choose to apply.”

story by John Riehl; photo by Tom Jorgensen

 

February 22, 2010