Q-A with SERP alum Tangela Roberts

The Summer Education Research Program (SERP) aims to encourage, promote, and prepare undergraduate students with diverse backgrounds to both pursue and thrive in their future graduate studies.

SERP is sponsored by UW–Madison’s School of Education and the university’s Graduate School, and it aims to increase opportunities for individuals to engage in important, independent research in fields across the arts, health, and education.

This work is guided by a faculty member or research associate mentor who is in, or affiliated with, the School of Education. The program offers a competitive $4,500 stipend for participants, as well as other amenities, including travel expenses to Madison and housing.

Over the years, SERP has prepared its student participants for a range of graduate programs and a variety of careers.

To give some insight into SERP and all that it has to offer, the communications team from the School of Education is interviewing SERP alumni who are willing to share their thoughts. Following is a Q-A with Tangela Roberts, who participated in SERP in 2009 and today is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology at the State University of New York’s (SUNY) University at Buffalo.


How did you learn about SERP, and what made you interested in pursuing a mentored research experience? I initially heard about SERP through the Ronald E. McNair postbaccalaureate program. The McNair program has the specific purpose of increasing underrepresented minorities in graduate school. As a requirement of this program, undergraduate students have to complete a summer research program. I had always been interested in research, although the idea of starting a project seemed daunting, but the mentored experience that SERP provided seemed like a great entry point into the world of research. 

Where were you doing your undergrad work, and what were you majoring in when you decided to attend SERP? As an undergrad, I majored in psychology (with a minor in women’s studies) at St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens (New York). 

What was your most meaningful experience from SERP? Looking back, the most meaningful experience has to be the life-long connections that I made with my SERP cohort. Most, if not all, of us still keep in touch and support each other both personally and professionally. 

Who was your faculty mentor, and what impact did that person (or other individuals) have on you and your SERP experience? My faculty mentor was Dr. Bill Hoyt. Looking back, I think I might have been initially intimidated by his statistical knowledge; however, I was soon able to turn that into a personal challenge for myself and keep my stats anxiety at bay. Most of my SERP cohort was connected to the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, so I had the immense pleasure of having many mentoring conversations with Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings about graduate school and the road to the PhD.

What role did SERP play in your decision to pursue graduate studies? Learning how to research topics I’m interested in was incredibly difficult; however, the SERP process helped to show me that with support, I can do difficult things. Even more, I began to see myself as a researcher, imagining conversations with the same people whose articles I read and analyzed. SERP helped to show me that I didn’t need to run away from things that I viewed as too hard; I needed to find the right support to achieve my goals. After SERP, I attended UW–Madison’s Counseling Psychology program for a master’s degree, and the University of Massachusetts Boston for a PhD in Counseling Psychology.

Did you learn anything from your SERP summer that helped prepare you to navigate graduate school? If yes, did this contribute to your eventual success in grad school? I feel like everything that I learned helped to prepare me for graduate school. In fact, my SERP summer research project turned into my master’s thesis, which eventually became my first authored publication while in my PhD program. In a way, SERP started what I hope to be a life-long career in psychological research.

What are you currently doing professionally? Did your time with SERP play a role in helping you get to where you are today? Currently, I am an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology at the State University of New York’s (SUNY) University at Buffalo. In this position, I train future psychologists in culturally competent, ethical, and socially just counseling psychology practices. My research documents experiences of stigma and marginalization encountered by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals and the negative health outcomes of prejudice using qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods approaches. Although my work has broadly focused on the LGBTQ community, my primary focus is on the lived experiences of Black LGBTQ+ individuals. My research seeks to provide a nuanced understanding of the mechanisms and processes that underlie the production of health disparities that exist for these communities, as well as strategies for coping and being resilient in the face of the adverse life events that Black LGBTQ+ people face.

What advice do you have for future SERP scholars? SERP is such a wonderful experience. I encourage future SERP students to dive head-first in the process. You’ll learn, hit roadblocks, and figure out how to work your way through the struggle that is academia. It’s worth it! You have a long line of faculty, other SERP students, and SERP alumni to seek out for support. Do the hard thing, but know you don’t have to do it alone. There is support and mentorship out there.

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