Former William & Mary Student Assembly President and newly hired WMSURE Program Coordinator Anthony “AJ” Joseph ’21 is paying it forward, helping to grow the program that gave him so much during his time at the university.

Joseph’s transition into the program comes at a time of dramatic expansion for WMSURE, with 62 William & Mary Scholars Award recipients invited into the program this year — the largest group yet.

“I love this campus, I had a great four years here,” Joseph said. “WMSURE is a unique and important part of this campus because the program adds perspectives and experiences that are not typical here, that are very important for us to understand as worldly human beings. I’m very proud of it.”

Anthony "AJ" Joseph
After teaching history and band for two years in Camden, New Jersey, Anthony “AJ” Joseph ’21 returned this fall to W&M as WMSURE’s new Program Coordinator. (Courtesy photo)

WMSURE is administered through the Charles Center, which oversees William & Mary’s Honors Program, as well as the university’s 1693 Scholars, Sharpe Community Scholars, Monroe Scholars and journalism programs.

WMSURE was conceived in 2010 by Psychological Sciences Associate Professor Cheryl Dickter and Anne Charity Hudley, associate professor of English, linguistics and Africana studies, who sought to offer guidance, support and community based on the self-identified needs of involved scholars. Participation in the program is extended to all applicants who receive the William & Mary Scholars Award, which covers in-state tuition and fees, and renews each year to recipients in good academic standing.

The award is presented during each application season to a group of academically distinguished students who have overcome unusual adversity and/or are members of underrepresented groups. Many WMSURE members are the first in their families to attend an institution of higher education.

Joseph said that during his time as a student at W&M, he needed a space where he could express himself and have a community that understood his experience. He also believes that the program is distinctive in its commitment to supporting students inside and beyond the classroom.

“We are one of the few programs that goes this far. There are a lot of colleges that offer a scholarship that is need-based, but there are few colleges or few universities that offer a whole program that welcomes students into a community so that they can thrive within that,” Joseph said.

Shawna Alston
English and Africana studies double-major Shawna Alston ’25 serves as a WMSURE fellow and director and co-facilitator of the book club WMSURE Reads! (Photo by Tess Willett)

Since 2019, Katherine Barko-Alva, associate professor of ESL/bilingual education, and Iyabo Osiapem, teaching professor of Africana studies and linguistics, have co-directed WMSURE, which currently includes five faculty fellows and 10 student fellows. Each faculty fellow serves a two-year term and acts as an academic advisor, support system and research mentor for WMSURE students.

Osiapem defined the role of the program as a space where students can be supported holistically, where students are introduced to the basics and expectations of college life and supported in research opportunities, job and internship applications, and more.

Through WMSURE, Osiapem hopes to demystify what is called the “hidden curriculum,” a concept that refers to the unwritten norms, rules and values of a society.

“We want to make it clear that all these students who were selected to attend our institution do belong here,” Osiapem said. “Ultimately, we are a research program. But in order to get to the research, we have to make sure our students are comfortable and engaged, feel as if they have a role to play on this campus, feel welcomed.”

Jasmine Ullrich writes on a pad of paper.
WMSURE fellow Jasmine Ullrich ’25, a computer science major, assists at the Campus Living Center. (Photo by Tess Willett)

One thing that she did not expect from the program was the depth of community feeling cultivated during her time as co-director. Though WMSURE was created as a research program, Osiapem said she was pleasantly surprised that she was now able to see the social as well as the academic side of the student body. She also mentioned that through regular Wednesday evening workshops that are open to all, WMSURE aids and supports the entire campus community.

Barko-Alva recognizes the importance of the program as a place for budding researchers to start solving complex problems in a collaborative environment.

“We will continue to work and transform to support our students’ academic and social cultural needs, recognizing that our scholars come in with a plethora of resources and our community is only better because our scholars are here,” Barko-Alva said. “WMSURE is home.”

WMSURE student fellow Lauren Payne ’24 echoed Barko-Alva, mentioning that she has found most of her friends in the program.

Allison Nkansah
Economics major Allison Nkansah ’26 serves as a WMSURE fellow and is researching economics and health development. (Courtesy photo)

“It gave me my community,” Payne said. “The WMSURE scholarship is the sole reason I’m going to school here, and it’s been that way for every person that I’ve met who is a W&M Scholar.”

Payne, currently a second-year fellow, was drawn to the role because of WMSURE’s influence on her life as a first-year student and, in turn, the impact she could have on others. This year, WMSURE also introduced a “Bigs” and “Littles” program to connect younger members with student mentors.

“I think my favorite part is just that I can be someone that has been through all of the seasons that they’re going through,” Payne said. “I don’t have any siblings,” she added, “but it’s kind of like being like an older sister.”

Through WMSURE, Payne has also been able to conduct research for two summers during her undergraduate career. Payne participated in research through the Local Black Histories Project with Associate Professor of Sociology Amy Quark, focusing on the legacy of W&M pre- and post-segregation. Specifically, she was able to speak to Williamsburg community members who were alive when W&M began hiring people of color.

Tiffani Hill ’24, another WMSURE fellow, has conducted multiple research projects through WMSURE, and said, as a high school student, it seemed far-fetched that she could do research in college. By her senior year at W&M, however, Hill has participated in research with Dickter, Associate Professor of School Psychology Janise Parker and Psychological Sciences Professor Janice Zeman. She hopes to continue this work while pursuing her master’s at W&M next year.

Jaden Spady
Finance major Jaden Spady ’24 serves as a WMSURE fellow and researches the impact of financial education on youth. (Courtesy photo)

“When I started seeing other people that looked like me talk about their experiences with research and how they have been on all these projects — they’ve studied abroad, they’ve done research over the summer — I started getting more interested in it,” Hill said. “Most of us are students of color or first generation, and it was something that I felt like I really needed in order to transition.”

WMSURE fellow Jaden Spady ’24 said the program helped him through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during his first year, while conducting classes from home.

“In the workshops they do a lot of stuff as far as getting acclimated to campus, introducing us to different campus resources so that we had sufficient time just navigating everything that happens around campus,” Spady said. “But it also was a support system. It was a community.”

Spady has also participated in research through the program for the past two summers with professor of business analytics Yu Amy Xia and Parker. With Xia, Spady researched business supply chain issues the summer after his freshman year. During his sophomore year, Spady investigated synthesizing recommendations for financial education programs with Parker.

“When we leave this Earth, we’re going to take all the knowledge we’ve acquired with us if we don’t pass it down,” Spady said. “I feel like it was fulfilling for me because I got to combine my interests with my passions.”

Jada Jones
WMSURE fellow Jada Jones ’25 is a business analytics and international relations double-major interested in global political economy and development. (Courtesy photo)

Osiapem envisions continued growth for WMSURE in the coming years and seeks to provide more for the students involved in the program. Osiapem would like WMSURE to provide more funding for study abroad and paid internship experiences.

“Many of our students want these options, but we don’t have the resources to support them,” Osiapem said. “The university has really supported us because they believe in our program and they believe in our students,” she said.  “We want our students to have more.”

Joseph believes that the future of WMSURE is bright, with the largest incoming cohort of students on the horizon.

“Where I see us moving in the next few years is to expand and re-establish the importance of WMSURE on this campus, in the region, and nationally. I see us gaining more exposure within—and reconnecting with—the communities from which we come. That’s something that I’m very passionate about,” Joseph said. “I really see WMSURE students taking on the world.”

Interested in getting more involved with WMSURE?  The program’s Wednesday workshops meet weekly from 4:30-6:00 in the Grimsley Board Room (room 201), in Blow Hall. WMSURE will also host its annual research conference Friday, April 12, 2024, starting at 10 a.m. in the Sadler Center.

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