In recognition of its commitment to mentoring and supporting students in the teacher education field, UCF was recently selected as the 2024 recipient of the Outstanding Holmes Program award from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).

The Holmes Scholar program supports students who self-identify as racially and ethnically diverse and are pursuing graduate degrees in education at AACTE member institutions. It provides mentorship, peer support, and professional development opportunities for students.

The Holmes program at UCF is directed by Department of Educational Leadership and Higher Education Assistant Professor Amanda Wilkerson and School of Teacher Education senior lecturer Caroline Pratt Marrett.

“I am excited that the AACTE is looking at programs to find out what the best models are and awarding them,” Wilkerson says. “I’m also grateful that our dean has made a financial investment in supporting our programs. Combined with the national organization’s interest, the work that students are doing, and the support that we get from the college, it has all made this accomplishment worthwhile.”

At UCF, the Holmes Scholar program’s goals are to enhance cultural competence for students, promote wellness through community engagement, and increase visibility of the scholars.

One such example of this is postdoctoral scholar Tahnee Wilder ’23PhD getting selected last semester to publish in the peer-reviewed Journal of Teacher Education, an opportunity Wilder learned about as a Holmes Scholar. Wilder was one of three Holmes Scholars from around the country to be selected for the mentoring opportunity of co-authoring an editorial or manuscript that will appear in one of the journal’s special anniversary issues this year.

“I am very pleased to know that our students receive this caliber of support from the excellent leadership of Dr. Wilkerson and Dr. Marrett. The national recognition of this group of scholars is a wonderful acknowledgement of the hard work our faculty does to ensure our students are unleashing their potential,” says Grant Hayes, dean of the College of Community Innovation and Education.

As former Holmes Scholars themselves, Wilkerson and Marrett find their leadership of the program at UCF that much more rewarding.

“We get to be examples for our students of what they can aspire to do — working in academia in a way that is empowering for our college, our field and our students,” Wilkerson says. “Being a part of it as a student and leading it as an academic has allowed me to really understand how I can support their success. I know what they need, and I’m going directly to that need and building programming and infrastructure that supports their success.”

Along with connecting students with alumni and other support systems, the Holmes Scholar program also gives them access to various resources, national conferences and opportunities to showcase their hard work.

“We have been fortunate to be able to fund travel for our scholars to the National Holmes Conference,” Marrett says. “Meeting other doctoral students from AACTE institutions is always an enlightening and gratifying experience for our scholars. It provides them with an opportunity to share their research interests, learn from scholars from other disciplines, network and become involved in leadership at the national level.”

Doctoral candidate Ashley Grays joined the program when she first began at UCF. Grays says being a Holmes Scholar gave her a unique space to talk about her challenges as a graduate student with people who really understand what it is like to be a person of color in academia.

“The climate of education right now has been very tumultuous, and with everything that has gone on in the time in the Ph.D. program, the Holmes program has been the one place where I can go where people understand how difficult this experience is for people of color in particular,” Grays says. “It’s grounded me, it’s provided me with the support and the mentorship that I need in order to be successful, and I would not be where I am without this group of people.”

Another doctoral candidate, Larousse Charlot, says joining the Holmes Scholar program helped him feel more at home at UCF.

“It gives me a sense of belonging,” Charlot says. “I had a little bit of trouble when I first enrolled, and I needed some support. The program provided me with support on navigating through the program and gave me the encouragement to keep going. I also found more students who look like me, which helped me feel anchored in the program. As I navigate through the program, I hope to emulate that same level of scholarly work so the group can continue to be recognized for what we do.”