Inside The CUNY Pipeline

By Makeba Lavan.

The CUNY Pipeline’s website, www.diversiphd.com, highlights the difficulties faced in bridging undergraduate and graduate education, especially by members of underrepresented groups like myself – a black woman and a first generation college student. No one in my family knew the process behind graduate education. CUNY Pipeline demystifies the process while providing multiple levels of support. The $5000 stipend support, for instance, allowed me to focus intensively on the application process over the summer of 2011. It also supported the mandatory participation in the Summer Institute, the research conference, and the completion of a thesis. Overall, the pipeline program prepares students to submit strong applications to graduate programs while educating them about the tools that create success in higher education.

When I seriously began to consider applying to graduate school as a junior at John Jay, I did not really know what that meant, but I knew that I wanted to teach. I also enjoy the idea of being a professional student. While many people shy away from this label, there is nothing derogatory about the label for me. The newfound enthusiasm for teaching and need for a deeper learning experience spurred me to become a McNair Scholar. The process was the most typical of CUNY processes. Very shortly into it, I learned that I needed a program that catered more to my goal of working in the humanities. As luck or providence would have it, I signed up to represent McNair at a program fair.

There, I first heard Dr. Donald Robotham discuss the CUNY Pipeline Program. This is what I’d been looking for. As soon as his speech was over, I approached Dr. Robotham about applying for the Pipeline program. Thereafter I spent a short intense time working on my application and was accepted. The rigor of Pipeline cannot be overstated. Every action is geared toward creating a strong, unique and thoughtful graduate application. To apply successfully, one’s application must include research questions anticipate graduate work. This process should be accompanied by a mentor who can guide the work, which culminates into a thesis. Ideally, this thesis should be used as a writing sample.

The Pipeline Summer Institute (PSI) is a six-week summer research institute held at the CUNY Graduate Center. There, we are split into two seminar groups: either the social sciences or the humanities. The summer institute ran Monday through Thursday 9am-5pm. I was not ready! The classes required all of my brain power. At the height of summer, I spent most days moving between the graduate level seminars, Grad School 101, and GRE prep. In the seminars, we practiced critical thinking and worked to bring our writing to something approaching the graduate level.

The camaraderie helped us most when we felt overwhelmed. We would meet in the cafeteria and gripe about the amount of work that goes into applying for graduate school. I greatly appreciated the seminar style of the courses because it forced me to think critically about everything I read. The mentors in Grad School 101 guided us through the entire graduate school process. We could ask them any questions we had along the way. Everyone was accessible. In terms of the GRE prep, I’ve never been a good test-taker. I know many of those tests are supposedly logic based, but in my case, they proved that logic is not universal. Taking regular tests provided me with a level of access that I would not have had outside the program. Because of this, I grew quite comfortable with the format and knew what to expect on my test date. And happily, my score was literally the same as my higher practice test scores.

After the summer institute, I created a spreadsheet for all of my application information. The Pipeline mentors, two in particular, continued to help me fine-tune my writing sample and statement of purpose. I don’t actually remember the Fall of 2012, because it was such a blur of writing/revising and applying. My theory is that the amount of stress I sustained during that time led me to blur out the details of those four months. I truly admire those who apply to graduate school on their own. Thankfully, because of Pipeline, I did not have to.

 

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