Florida A&M University alumnus and professor of civil and environmental engineering, Clayton Clark recently received a $1.5 Million Grant from the United States Department of Education to provide financial assistance to minority students. The Graduate Assistantship in Areas of National Need (GAANN) awards fellowships to underrepresented doctoral students apart of civil and environmental engineering programs.
Clark said all of the funds awarded go directly to the students and their financial needs. Alleviating financial responsibilities is beneficial because students do not have to sacrifice time that should be devoted to their studies by working full or part-time jobs.
“We were blessed to be a blessing to these students. The Lord blessed me to help be a blessing to these young people and I thank Christ for the ability he’s given me to do this,” Clark said. “He put me in position to garner these grants; not for myself, but to be a blessing to the students they help. I am happy to be a part of their journey to accomplishing their academic and professional goals.”
The GAANN assists by covering the costs of tuition and additional living expenses for three years while students work towards their Ph.D., degree. This allows each recipient the opportunity to focus on research and studying which can promote academic success and sooner graduation expectancies.
Clark was encouraged to apply for the grant after he noticed the need of the students in the program. He was inspired to implement a plan to help after recalling his personal experiences with working while being enrolled in graduate school.
“I had to work because the fellowship I had did not pay as much as this one does,” Clark said. “I worked an engineering job and I also tutored. It wasn’t back breaking labor, but it did take me away from my studies. I’m thrilled someone else gets the chance to do things I didn’t.”
Clark hoped the grant’s distribution along with mentoring, and assistance with program matriculation enabled students to have a better experience as doctoral candidates. He finds that explaining the variety of job prospects and potential career opportunities helps students consider the field and become more engaged.
Doctoral candidate and grant recipient Niya King, was among the few students awarded the prestigious fellowship. She said the fellowship was a honor and privilege to receive.
"The fellowship has helped with eliminating obstacles and lifting the financial burden many students encounter,” King said. “As a doctoral candidate, it has allowed me to focus on producing valuable research. I'm able to complete a Ph.D., with excellence.”
Besides being financially supportive, the overall goal of the GAANN grant is to encourage more minority students to pursue doctorate degrees in civil and environmental engineering. King hoped the future generation of engineers would be inspired by her journey.
"We represent the underrepresented,” King said. “There's only a handful of us and I'm proud to be a model for future students. I'm also the first in my immediate family to receive a Ph.D., so I'm grateful to be a model for them as well."
Although the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering has more fellowship opportunities than students taking advantage of them, it doesn’t stop the handful of grantees in the program from remaining involved.
Nemmi Cole, an upcoming graduate of the doctoral program, noted how the fellowship experience helped her tremendously.
“Many graduate students get to a point where finances become an extreme burden that distracts them from ultimately completing their doctoral degree,” Cole said. “Thanks to the generous support of the GAANN fellowship [which covers my tuition, fees, and stipend], I am able to commit 100% of my time to my research and the completion of my dissertation. Without this support, my educational pursuits would have been near impossible.”
Cole said she appreciated the guidance she has received from being under Dr. Clark’s supervision because it has helped make her confident in her abilities to exceed the high standards placed upon her as a student.
“Dr. Clark has not only been my adviser throughout my graduate studies (undergraduate, masters, and doctoral), but a mentor that I sincerely look up to,” Cole said. “His guidance and wisdom are unparalleled, and I am sure my fellow peers would agree when I say, we are all grateful for his leadership.”
By providing fellowship opportunities, the grant increases recruitment of minority engineers locally as well as nationally. Graduate students involved in the program work towards improving roads, drinking water systems, and water quality treatment related infrastructures.
Reducing stress and providing multiple sources of support helps students focus academically, enhance research, and produce outstanding records of performance.