Education: The Key to Opportunity

By 
Tola Abraham
Graduate College Writer/Communications Assistant

The path to future success is paved with graduate education. Menah Pratt-Clarke suggests this is especially true for students from groups historically underrepresented in academia.

Pratt-Clarke received a B.A. in English and M.A. in literary studies from the University of Iowa in 1989.

Menah Pratt-Clarke
Menah Pratt-Clarke

Since graduating from Iowa, Pratt-Clarke has spent over 20 years in trans-disciplinary studies, administration, legal practice, and social justice advocacy. She was recently named vice provost for inclusion and diversity and vice president for strategic affairs at Virginia Tech University.

“Never arrive at the door of opportunity without a key. Education is the key.” says Pratt-Clarke, who earned a JD/Ph.D. in sociology from Vanderbilt University.

Reflecting on the high points of her career, Pratt-Clarke advises students, especially those from underrepresented groups, to be always prepared for opportunities for career and life advancement.

Pratt-Clarke understands from her experience as a student and as a scholar that underrepresented students face particular challenges in the college experience.

“Often these students experience issues of bias, racism, micro-aggression, isolation, those range of feelings that come from being a minority in a large research institution,” Pratt-Clarke says.

She also admits that the challenges are not specific to the academic environment, but a reflection of the struggles prevalent in society as a whole. There are still many opportunities for excellence for students from underrepresented groups in spite of these challenges.

Pratt-Clarke prescribes an unwavering sense of confidence and fierce determination. Students who aim for future academic careers have to be ready to do the work and get the necessary knowledge. It is also important to seek help when necessary.

“Other folks can help you but there has to be something to work with. Be humble about your shortcomings, but be aggressive enough to ask for help,” says Pratt-Clarke.

SROP PROVIDED A CRUCIAL FOUNDATION

During the last year of her undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa, Pratt-Clarke participated in the UI Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP). SROP is a program designed to provide promising undergraduate students from underrepresented groups with in-depth research experiences. About 70 percent of University of Iowa SROP scholars have gone on to pursue advanced degrees.

Pratt-Clarke credits her SROP experience with laying the foundation for her interests in research and scholarship.

“I was privileged to work with James McPherson,” says Menah speaking fondly of her SROP experience.

Professor McPherson, a faculty member at the Iowa Writers Workshop, was examining the role of African American leaders in drafting the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution. Menah transcribed documents related to his research, and took advantage of the opportunity to engage in conversations about his research and scholarship.

“This got me into what research means as well as what it would mean to be in the academy as a scholar,” Pratt-Clarke says.

The time at the University of Iowa and SROP was more than an opportunity to hone scholastic ambitions.

“SROP was a great experience. It was wonderful to see a community of underrepresented students with similar interests in research and education. I still have a lot of wonderful friends from my time in Iowa,” Pratt-Clarke says.