Persistence through the Ph.D.

Persistence through the Ph.D.

Dedication to mentoring others leads to success

Asia Dowtin’s Ph.D. research examined rainfall in five woodland sites from Wilmington, Delaware, to Fair Hill, Maryland.

Looking back on her graduate student career at University of Delaware, Asia Dowtin sees two themes that enabled her success: persistence and community engagement.

Early in her work here, she had to overcome a switch in advisers, and the research that would underpin her Ph.D. studies almost ended before it began. But for the entire six years she spent studying the hydrology of urban forests, Dowtin surmounted the obstacles and actively worked to engage younger students, both undergraduates and K-12, in the work she loves. That student engagement was one of the factors that helped her land a tenure-track faculty position at Michigan State University starting this summer.

Dowtin and her adviser, Department of Geography Chair Del Levia, Professor of Ecohydrology, collaborated on a piece published in Science today, June 8, that addresses some of the challenges she faced, including the way her doctoral research was imperiled by a non-uniformed officer in an unmarked car stopping her and two undergraduate assistants in the forest in Wilmington, Delaware’s Rockford Park on the first day of her fieldwork. Dowtin’s attempts to address the unexpected concerns from officials garnered no response, and the research was in question until Levia stepped in.

The incident was such a turning point for Dowtin’s work and the way the two of them work together that they thought it could be beneficial to share with their scholarly community. Levia thought it would be good to share how Dowtin was able to persevere with the support of the mentor-mentee relationship the two of them had built on common vision and open communication.

“The ‘Working Life’ section of Science is of critical importance as it provides a beacon of hope for many in science,” Levia said. “It is a place where people can go to learn about the experiences of others and to benefit from them.”

When he brought the idea for a “Working Life” story to Dowtin, she agreed.

“I also wanted to highlight the fact that students of color do face these challenges,” Dowtin said, adding that she wants to help advisers from different backgrounds realize they need to listen to their graduate students’ experiences or even draw them out when they notice students may be struggling. “There are going to be a bunch of challenges that come at you regardless of what you look like, and there are going to be challenges that come at you because of what you look like.”

Asia Dowtin’s research took her to woodland sites in Delaware and Maryland.

Dowtin’s time at UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment was defined by both her persistence and the way she proactively worked for an inclusive community and provided opportunities for younger students.

Her research involved more than 150 collectors and gauges spread across five sites in two states, from Fair Hill in Maryland to Alapocas Woods in Wilmington. There was no way she could collect all the data herself, but that was an opportunity, not a problem. Over two and a half years, Dowtin had 17 undergraduates from four UD colleges help with data collection, and those students received course credits, with some even using data for their own research.

Beyond incorporating undergraduates in her research, Dowtin also embraced many opportunities to mentor high schoolers during her time at UD. She led students in the Delaware Chapter of the Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program in a project mapping the trails behind the Delaware Museum of Natural History. She spoke at elementary schools and public libraries.

And nearly every summer she was at UD, Dowtin brought teenagers from the city of Wilmington’s Green Jobs program to campus, teaching them about topics like forest hydrology and urban forestry, but also just making a point to get them to the University, to emphasize that UD is for Delawareans, including them.

“I feel a personal obligation to make sure that as I come up in this academic world that I help people up who look like me,” Dowtin said. “It is important to me to be a role model for black and brown kids. There are not a lot of people of color in this department or this field.”

Dowtin said her experience reaching into the community and working with undergraduates were attractive to Michigan State, where her new position as assistant professor in urban and community forestry combines teaching, research and extension work, in which she will help community members address urban forestry problems and opportunities in East Lansing and Detroit.

“This job is literally the fulfillment of dreams I had kept to myself for many years,” Dowtin said. “None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t had all of the experiences I did here, the good and the bad.”

Del Levia (left) congratulates his Ph.D. student Asia Dowtin during the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment’s Honors Day ceremony this spring.


 Photos by Judy Rolfe and Leah Dodd | 

Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers

Celebrating William Majett Jr.

As the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics celebrates the 100-year anniversary of business education at UD, the Breaking Barriers blog series tells the stories of the first individuals from underrepresented groups to join the Lerner College in key roles.

William Majett Jr., who graduated from the Lerner College in 1965 as UD’s first African-American business graduate, blazed a trail for generations of students after him. In this interview, we learn more about William’s story in his own words:

What made you decide to attend UD and major in business?

I always was interested in business. I grew up on Bennett Street on Wilmington’s East Side, about 10 blocks from downtown Wilmington. When I went to the corner of 10th and Bennett streets, I could look up and see the downtown buildings, and I was always impressed by that. I would go uptown; I would walk around and look, see the people going into the office buildings, working in the offices.

Coming from the East Side, we didn’t have, at that time, many Black folk working in offices. We were mostly laborers or blue collar. But I was always interested in working in an office and going into business.

After graduating from high school I applied to several colleges… but the University of Delaware came through with a Delaware Right to Education grant. So that was really the main reason why I chose the University, because of the financial package that they offered.

Read more  | Article by Sunny Rosen

Nursing’s 50th Celebration

Nursing’s 50th Celebration

Keynote speaker Marcella A. Copes (Class of 1974) with her former college roommate Meta McGhee (Class of 1974)

Event celebrates diversity, alumni achievements

The University of Delaware School of Nursing, in collaboration with the Nursing Workforce Diversity Program, hosted a special alumni event in honor of the School’s 50th anniversary on Wednesday, April 13.

The event, “Breaking Barriers & Opening Doors,” commemorated the numerous achievements accomplished by minority alumni since graduating from UD.

With opening remarks from both the Nursing Workforce Diversity team, and Susan Hall, deputy dean in the College of Health Sciences, the evening’s focus on diversity reflects the University’s commitment to creating a culturally competent workforce.

Read more on UDaily.