by Claire Miller
Tisha Y. Lewis was shocked and devastated when her faculty advisor told her that her writing wasn’t good enough for her to continue in her doctoral program.
Lewis, who was in the middle of taking her comprehensive examinations when she found out she was being dropped from her program, faced a tough decision: To accept her advisor’s decision and find a new path, or to fight to stay in her program and prove that indeed she had what it took to earn her doctorate.
She chose the latter, and credits a nonprofit program called SisterMentors for giving her the strength to finish her doctoral program.
SisterMentors is a Washington, D.C.-based program that offers support and guidance for women of color working on their dissertations. They meet regularly to discuss the successes and challenges they face, and they take time to mentor girls in elementary, middle and high school.
“Statistics show the primary reason women of color don’t finish their Ph.D.s is because of a lack of mentoring and support,” Lewis said. “SisterMentors gave me a safe community where we could talk about what was going on in our dissertations. I know without them pushing me and saying, ‘You can do this’ and ‘Your work is worthy to be published in top-tier journals,’ I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.”
Lewis completed her doctorate in 2009 and accepted an assistant professor position in the College of Education’s Department of Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology in 2010. Since completing her dissertation, she has published articles in several journals and books, presented her research at other universities, was a finalist for the International Reading Association’s 2011 Dissertation of the Year Award this year, and was invited to serve as keynote speaker at the Centre for the Study of New Literacies International Conference, which will take place at the University of Sheffield, England, in June 2012.
Lewis is one of 41 women who have earned their Ph.D. in SisterMentors’ approximately 15-year history, and her story was recently highlighted in a documentary on the program. Filmmakers flew to Atlanta this fall, interviewed Lewis and collected footage of her teaching in the COE to include in the film, which was screened at a fundraising breakfast for SisterMentors in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9.
In the documentary, Lewis opens up about the difficulties she faced in her doctoral program and the benefits of having a support system. It’s a story she’ll tell her doctoral students when they come to her with problems, and one that she hopes women will remember when they’re struggling to complete their degrees.
“I look at my story and I think about how it could have an impact on doctoral students,” she said. “So many of my colleagues have told me that they would have benefitted from a program like SisterMentors. I hope the program continues to expand.”
For more information about SisterMentors, visit http://www.sistermentors.org.