Two SURP Interns Describe Their Preparation for Graduate School


The Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) is a rigorous 8-week internship program funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences as part of the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST) pre-doctoral fellowship program.

SURP provides undergraduates from underrepresented populations with valuable research and professional development experiences under the guidance of U.Va. Faculty. Interns are mentored by faculty and graduate student researchers while conducting research, attending workshops, taking GRE preparation courses, and presenting at a professional conference.

The Curry School of Education will be launching a new Question and Answer series with the SURP interns that will be released throughout the summer. This series will highlight the SURP program, and the interns’ experiences, interests, and the research.

The interns highlighted here are working with Joanna Lee Williams, Ph.D, an assistant professor, and Nancy Deutsch, Ph.D, an associate professor at the Curry School of Education and Youth-Nex. The research project entitled “Young Women Leaders Program” examines a psycho-educational mentoring program that empowers at-risk middle school girls to be leaders by combining the benefits of one-on-one mentoring with targeted group activities.

Keya Chilka is a rising senior at Mount Holyoke College where she is majoring in Psychology. Her research interests lie in trauma and intersectionality within marginalized groups through a social psychology and educational psychology lens. She is also a tutor at Valley Opportunity Council, an ESL center, and a board member of Familia, a group supporting LBGT youth of color.

Keya ChilkaQuestion: Why did you choose to participate in SURP?

Chilka: I chose to participate in SURP because I really like the project description and faculty bios that I read online. The project that I’m working on right now really resounded with me. I also chose to participate in SURP because I felt that the program had a lot of other great opportunities besides the research such as taking the GRE class and educational trips with interns.

Question: How has SURP helped shape your career goals?

Chilka: I was going to take two years off before graduate school and now I think that it might come sooner for me. I think it also further clarified what options are available if you go into clinical psychology and what happens in graduate school. All of these things had been really fuzzy in my mind before I was actually able to speak with people involved with SURP.

Question: Tell us about a moment that you were proud of during SURP.

Chilka: The week I was finally able to work some of the SPSS stuff by myself. I just felt so proud. And then when I got my results I was really exalted because I thought that my results were really cool and interesting, and they weren’t what I expected at all. So I went outside and called my mom and everyone because I was so excited. I had to re-familiarize myself with a lot of statistics and that was pretty challenging for me. I had to take the initiative and that was something that SURP really helped me with.

Keena Jones is a rising senior at Clark Atlanta University where she is a Senior Psychology major. Her research interests include the study of educational achievement in regards to individual differences among racial groups, socioeconomic strata, and siblings. She has served as program developer within the (The Salvation Army) Boys & Girls Club of America.

Keena JonesQuestion: How has SURP helped you discover your interest in research?

Jones: I now know what it feels like to actually be a researcher, I guess. I feel I’ve got a good opportunity to build skills, data entry, understand different analyses, and know how to build a research project. I feel like I got a lot of the skills that I now know for graduate school. I think it’s given me a greater interest in educational psychology and education research. SURP gave me the potential to explore other areas that are related but not exactly the same, like education policy and things like that.

Question: How have you benefited from the other SURP opportunities outside your project?

Jones: I think those are really informational. There are some unanswered questions there or things that stem from there that I wouldn’t have got otherwise. And just getting to hear other people’s experiences tended to make me feel more confident, in areas that I’ve never explored before. I’ve never been to graduate school and it’s like an undiscovered frontier for me. So for me to talk to people who’ve been there, it helps me to kind of visualize it happening for myself.

Question: What was your experience in working with your research mentors?

Jones: I think that they’ve been so helpful. They reach out to me all the time, and I wouldn’t even have to go and seek them out. That’s an experience that I’ve never particularly had. I usually feel like it’s on my part to go out and ask someone for help or seek out a mentor. And so, having them help me and always provide feedback has been really helpful.

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Jones and Chilka are the fourth and final group of SURP interns interviewed in this series over the summer of 2014. Read more about Charity and Selva, Choy and Monjaras-Gaytan, and Clay and Magana.

For more information about SURP, please visit our website or email CurrySURP@virginia.edu