RBSI 30th Anniversary Alumni Reflections

Nikol Alexander-Floyd, JD, PhD

Associate Professor, Rutgers University

RBSI Class of 1989

"[The RBSI program] enabled me to have a firmer grasp on the process it would take to attain the PhD; introduced me to leaders in the discipline with whom I would develop lifelong relationships; and afforded me further mentorship by Jewel Prestage, and others. Dr. Earl Picard, our American politics instructor, came back the weekend after the Tiannamen Square incident began having written a 40+ page paper about it. He was driven by his intellectual curiosity and passion about the political issues at stake. I was just amazed. And, he read it to us, and we were all captivated. That's a moment I'll never forget." Read more about Professor Alexander-Floyd's research

Rebecca Bakre, MPA

Director, The Baltimore Energy Challenge at Civic Works

RBSI Class of 2009

"The RBSI Program gave me access to a wealth of knowledge about post-graduate opportunities that I otherwise may not have discovered. I attribute much of my success in grad school to the skills developed while at the Summer Institute. I was a more confident student and now a more confident professional thanks to the training I received that summer. I still keep in touch with many of the scholars that participated during my cohort. And we make sure to let the others know when we plan to be in their city so that we are sure to link up. Three of us actually plan a yearly meetup in New York during the holidays. I cherish all of the friendships I made at RBSI."

Renata Barreto, Graduate Student

University of California, Berkeley
RBSI Class of 2012

"Through the RBSI Program, I got a taste for conducting high-quality, social science research and decided to focus on applying for a PhD program. I remember staying up late with my fellow RBSI colleagues, learning from each other, and writing our final papers."

Nicole Bauer, Graduate Teaching Assistant

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

RBSI Class of 2011

"I really am indebted to the RBSI for helping me prepare for my current successes. First, I was not fully convinced that I wanted/needed to go on to pursue a graduate degree. Ultimately, the fellowship informed my decision and helped prepare me for my MA program. The experience gave me valuable strategic insight and practical experience that made my transition to graduate school go smoothly. Second, I learned to overcome my fear of numbers. Because RBSI exposed me to quantitative research methodologies, statistics, and computational modeling, I gained the confidence I needed to fully embrace these subject areas that I had previously avoided. Now I take advance statistics modeling for fun, and I find it completely empowering. Finally--and arguably most importantly--I gained a context for understanding race in American politics that helped me better frame and understand my own racial and ethnic identity. One memorable aspect of the program was the opportunity to immerse myself in a graduate experience. I appreciated the faculty, staff, and GTAs who were available to answer my questions and provide a detailed picture of what graduate school would be like. These all helped me make a better informed decision."

Nadia Brown, PhD

Professor of Government, chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program and affiliate in the African American Studies Program,

Georgetown University

RBSI Class of 2003

"Participating in the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute (RBSI) is the reason why I am a political scientist. This was my first exposure to the professoriate. My involvement with the RBSI experience provided an opportunity for me to truly understand the importance of knowledge creation. Without this program, it is doubtful that I would have entered a graduate program in political science. I am thankful for APSA’s dedication to cultivating a pipeline for minority scholars. My interests in Black women’s political participation was primed through my undergraduate courses at Howard University and solidified at RBSI. It was RBSI where I wrote my first research paper that included original data analysis. This paper used data from the National Black Politics Study (1993) to examine if race or gender consciousness was more important for Black women voters. The skills I learned at RBSI were a crucial foundation that enabled me to be successful in graduate school at Rutgers University. The knowledge gained at RBSI and connections that I made through the program have helped me to produce innovative scholarship on Black women political elites."
Learn more about Professor Brown's research.
Read Nadia Brown's profile on PSNow

Nyron N. Crawford, PhD

Assistant Professor, Temple University
RBSI Class of 2007

"Like most political science majors, I had high dreams of law school, and a plan of study to get me there. That all changed the summer (2007) I attended the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute (RBSI) at Duke; that experience is responsible for setting me on a professional-academic course that has been so rich in opportunity, friendship, and adventure. The most memorable aspect of the Summer Institute were the late nights reading, learning statistics, and tinkering with STATA. It was an intense task, but we managed to learn and have some fun doing it together. RBSI has played an important role in creating a large, diverse community of scholars in political science, many of whom are are willing to pay it forward in the form of encouraging, supporting, and aiding in your success."
Learn more about Professor Crawford's research
Read Nyron Crawford's profile on PSNow

Yashica Crawford, PhD

Chief of Staff with the Peralta Community College District in Oakland

RBSI Class of 2000

"I participated in the RBSI at the University of Virginia in the summer of 2000 and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I have always had a passion for how policy influences society. Upon graduation from Howard University, I decided to study this through the lens of education. I graduated with a PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Florida."

Ivelisse Cuevas-Molina

Graduate Student, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

RBSI Class of 2006

"Being an RBSI alum is a privilege enjoyed by few and I am honored to be part of the legacy of this program. RBSI gave me my first experience with statistical analysis of survey data and encouraged me to continue to do academic research. The program opened many doors for me as I continued my academic career. Without RBSI I might not have gone on to graduate school, and might not be on the verge of completing my doctorate in political science. Thanks to RBSI I have built enduring friendships with individuals who have gone on to become successful academics and professionals in political science, education, and public service. I also treasure having had the opportunity to meet "Bunchees" that came before my class, and other guest faculty speakers like Matt Barreto."

Elizabeth Davies, PhD

Post-doctoral Fellow, SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University
RBSI Class of 2014

"The RBSI program jump-started my senior thesis and helped me engage with the theoretical and statistical foundations for my project. I truly enjoyed making connections with students and professors from some of the best graduate schools in the country at the RBSI graduate school recruitment fair."


Katrina Gamble, PhD

Political Consultant

RBSI Class of 1998

"RBSI is the reason why I pursued a PhD in political science. It ultimately allowed me to work as a tenure-track professor at an Ivy League university and my PhD has continued to inform my work as a political director and consultant even after I left the academy. RBSI has been a key to my professional career. I also have a solid network of other political scientist that I met through RBSI that I still remain connected with. A particularly memorable moment for me was presenting my research as a poster at APSA conference following the summer institute. It was my first professional presentation of research and it was wonderful to be a part of the political science community in that way even before I had went to graduate school."

Andra Gillespie, PhD

Associate Professor, Emory University

RBSI Class of 1998

"The RBSI Program created an instant professional network for me that has been invaluable in so many ways. Immediately after completing the program, my Bunche network helped me to apply to and choose a graduate school. Today, my friends from Bunche (and they include alumni from all years and supporters of the program who regularly participate in Bunche programming) have become trusted friends, colleagues, and collaborators. I don't know if I would have been as connected to other scholars were it not for the RBSI Program."

Rachel Gillum, PhD

Head of Global Policy, Ethical and Humane Use of Technology, Saleforce

RBSI Class of 2007

"The RBSI program provided me the basic tool set needed to succeed in a PhD program and familiarized me with academic research and methods. It also gave me confidence that I could succeed in a PhD program. I gained great lifelong colleagues and friends who supported me through my PhD program."

Read more about Rachel Gillum's work

Fatima Goss, JD

Senior Vice President, National Women's Law Center

RBSI Class of 1997

"The RBSI gave me the opportunity to think deeply about political science and academia. Although I ultimately decided to get a law degree, the foundation laid that summer has served me well throughout my career. One of my closest friends today was my roommate at RBSI - our nearly 20 year friendship began as we explored the possibility of diving into a career in academia."

Mai Hassan, PhD

Postdoc and Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

RBSI Class of 2007

"RBSI is why I am in academia. Though that summer was tough -- and I mean rough -- the whole experience helped me realize that a PhD was something I could accomplish. And being around so many other motivated and intelligent people made me realize it was something that I wanted to accomplish."

Dirk Horn, Graduate Student/Teaching Assistant

University of California, Irvine
RBSI Class of 2011

"Participation in the RBSI program affirmed that I wanted to go to grad school and work in the academy. One memory that stands out is Dr. McClain and all the graduate assistants (now professors) who really put time and effort into helping all the RBSI students in any way they could."

Muhammed Idris, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, PERFORM Centre RBSI Class of 2010

"RBSI was my introduction to PhD level academics and research. And were it not for the relationships and confidence I developed while at Duke, I would have never applied to or completed a graduate degree. RBSI is the real deal, but you can only take advantage of this opportunity if you truly challenge yourself." 
Learn more about Dr. Idris' research.

Ashley Lagaron

Senior Applied Data Scientist, Civis Analytics

RBSI Class of 2009

"[The RBSI program] introduced me to more rigorous statistical analysis, which I had no clue at the time would be so beneficial given the current attention in the private sector to using "big data" and statistical modeling to address business problems. I was able to attend graduate school at a dream location, learn a ton, further develop my skills, and realize academia was ultimately not for me. This was one of the only times in my academic or professional career when I was able to work with and learn from so many people of color. So often, including at my current position, I am or was the only woman or the only Latina individual around (I currently work at a start-up). I didn't fully appreciate at the time how rare it was to be learning technical skills with other minorities and for it not to seem odd or rare." 

Cheryl Laird, PhD

Assistant Professor, Saint Louis University

RBSI Class of 2004

"RBSI created a network of scholars that have been able to provide me with guidance and mentorship. Many of my closest friendships are with RBSI scholars across cohorts. It prepared me for the challenges that I have faced pursuing an academic career. It made me an advocate for increasing minority representation and faculty in the academy, specifically in the field of Political Science. I sent my first advisee to Bunche in 2014. I remember the speaker series from the program. Being able to meet some of the top scholars field was quite an experience. My favorite speakers were Scott Paige and Melissa Harris Perry. Paige ended up writing about the discussion our class had with him in his book, The Difference. The speaker series showed us what we could be in the future and how Bunche would prepare us to be strong scholars."

Phillip Logan, Graduate Student

Temple University
RBSI Class of 2013

"The RBSI program revealed to me the real possibility of obtaining a PhD in political science as an African American male. One memorable aspect from the RBSI program that still stands out is meeting peers with similar aspirations. I also met many academics of color that I otherwise would not have known to exist."

Tehama Lopez Bunyasi, PhD

Assistant Professor, George Mason University

RBSI Class of 2000

"RBSI opened up a world of possibilities that I did not know was in reach. By participating in the Bunche program, I not only learned that I had "the chops" for completing a doctoral program, but I also learned that my modest financial background need not impede going to graduate school right after college. The people I met by participating in Bunche have become my primary professional network, and that is a relationship that is now 16 years old (oh my gosh!). There's only one word that adequately describes the Bunche experience: invaluable. One of my fondest memories from Bunche came towards the end of the program. We were working ceaselessly on our final projects, and spent many a twilight hour hammering out statistical analyses. Naturally, one becomes "slap happy" after working so hard, and our group created so many memories of singing songs, telling jokes, and generally supporting one another as we entered the Nth hour of working in the computer lab. I didn't know it then, but that would be the kind of camaraderie I would thrive on as I pushed through other milestones in graduate school."

Yalidy Matos, PhD

Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, Brown University

RBSI Class of 2008

"Participating in RBSI allowed me to have a better understanding of graduate school and graduate level work. Consequently, RBSI reiterated my decision to attend graduate school. My most memorable moments at RBSI were in the Race and American Politics course. The course allowed me to think deeper about race in American, and to dialogue with like-minded individuals."

Gabe Sanchez, PhD

Professor, University of New Mexico, and Executive Director, RWJF Center for Health Policy

RBSI Class of 2000

"The RBSI Program is why I decided to go to graduate school, and it provided me with the confidence and network needed to get off to a good start in my academic career. This was my first exposure to PhD level research which was vital to my career decision. This program is designed to provide you a realistic experience as a PhD student and set you up with a solid professional network. Take advantage of this opportunity and you will be rewarded with several options to choose from in graduate programs."

Thomas Stewart, PhD

President, Patten University 

RBSI Class of 1986

"The RBSI prepared me for a career as a scholar, entrepreneur, and leader beyond my wildest dreams. During the summer before my senior year of undergraduate at the University of the District of Columbia, I was completely focused on studying for the LSAT's, attending law school, and eventually pursuing a career in criminal law. I was clueless about PhD programs, specifically the many ways I could potentially leverage an advanced degree in political science. Fortunately, I was accepted by the RBSI, and I was blessed with an opportunity to study under Drs. Jewel Prestage (the first Black woman to receive a PhD in political science) and Njeri Jackson - one of the most dynamic educators I have ever met. We were held to high and rigorous graduate level academic standards, and, to a person, we received the guidance, coaching, and support necessary to meet the standards. I'm forever grateful to the American Political Science Association and the Ford Foundation for making my experiences with RBSI possible, which culminated with a PhD in Government from Harvard University. I attempt to give forward every day in the name of Drs. Ralph Bunche, Jewel Prestage, Robert Putnam, Sidney Verba, Paul Peterson, and many other professors who paved the way for me and many others. Because of the RBSI, I'm able to touch literally thousands of students domestically and internationally as president of Patten University."

Dilara Kadriye Uskup, Graduate Student 

Joint doctoral candidate in political science and theology, University of Chicago 

RBSI Class of 2011

"I likely would not have been a political scientist if it were not for the RBSI Program and would have missed my vocational calling. I initially wanted to pursue a PhD in Public Policy prior to attending the Summer Institute but after my experience at Duke I decided to apply to Political Science programs. RBSI is critical to increasing the number of African Americans pursuing doctoral education and I am forever grateful for its influence on my professional career, educational training, and vocational calling."

Robert Velez, Graduate Assistant

Southern Illinois University - Carbondale

RBSI Class of 2008

"RBSI provided me with a foundation of graduate level work, an introduction into using statistics in political science, and transitioning from a knowledge consumer to a knowledge creator. RBSI is like graduate school boot camp. As a military veteran, I place the demands of RBSI at the same level as a civilian being molded to fit into a military role. While extremely challenging going through it, it is much easier to begin graduate school after going through the Bunche Institute. I would encourage all applicants and participants to make the most out of the opportunity. Begin the practice of creating knowledge."

Devin Walker

Senior Equal Opportunity Professional, D. Walker Consultants

RBSI Class of 1987

"The RBSI gave me the opportunity to connect with other students from around the country. Through this experience, I helped to reinforce the fact that there are many different perspectives within the Black experience that cannot be ignored or taken for granted. It further encouraged me to ensure that the contributions that Africa has played in all aspects of human civilization, especially politics, do not get ignored. It is an excellent opportunity to connect with fellow students and develop life-long relationships."

Sherri Wallace, PhD

Professor, University of Louisville
RBSI Class of 1988

"Participating in the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute in 1988 changed my direction in life. I was determined to go to law school; however, the opportunity to spend the summer in the program at Southern University and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA opened my eyes to the possibility to pursue a career teaching, researching and doing public service on topics and issues that were valuable to me. I was able to become a teacher/scholar on race and politics and significantly impact the discipline on how we teach race and politics in American Politics via scholarship, teaching and service in the profession. It is a joy to be able to do what I do." Learn more about Professor Wallace's research.

Vesla Weaver, PhD

Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
RBSI Class of 2000

"The Ralph Bunche Summer Institute gave me the tools to analyze the dynamics of black politics and citizenship, to see what the discipline of political science was all about, and to connect with others in the field of racial politics. It gave us a community. Bunche was the beginning of a career of asking exciting and pressing questions that others in our traditional field were not asking." Learn more about Professor Weaver's research.