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Belk Center Postdoctoral Research Scholar Melissa Whatley Awarded 2018-19 Zell and Shirley Miller Fellowship from Institute of Higher Education

Melissa Whatley with her fellowship award
2018-19 Zell and Shirley Miller Fellowship Award Recipient Melissa Whatley (left) and 2019-20 award recipient Lindsey Hammond (right)

Melissa Whatley, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research scholar with the NC State College of Education’s Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research*, was awarded the 2018-19 Zell and Shirley Miller Fellowship from the Institute of Higher Education, an academic unit based at the University of Georgia.

“It’s such an honor to be awarded this fellowship. I know that in receiving this award, I join a long line of fellow Institute of Higher Education students and alumni whose work I greatly respect,” said Whatley. “I am most of all incredibly grateful for the mentoring that I received as a doctoral student, which has empowered me to continue to produce the kind of work that I believe in.”

The Zell and Shirley Miller Fellowship is awarded annually to a doctoral student of high promise in the Institute of Higher Education. When determining who will be awarded, the Institute of Higher Education Graduate Studies Committee takes into account the scholarly potential of the candidate, along with an assessment of his/her academic record and professional achievement. It was established to support doctoral study of significant issues in the field of higher education.

Whatley’s research focuses on issues of access and equity in international education with a particular focus on community colleges. She was drawn to studying community colleges specifically because she saw that they “represented spaces where the elitist narratives that often surround study abroad at four-year institutions are broken down.”

“As a student, I benefited tremendously from participation in international education, including study abroad,” said Whatley. “For a number of years, I coordinated study abroad programs for students. Through this experience, I observed similar benefits occurring among students that I taught. It was while I was coordinating these programs that it really began to bother me that not all students were able to participate in the kinds of programs that I was coordinating. I decided to enroll in a Ph.D. program in higher education because it would give me the space to explore those inequities academically.”

Whatley earned her Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education. At the Belk Center, she conducts quantitative research on issues related to community college student outcomes and community college campus culture with a view to informing policies and practices that contribute to student success.

“Working in the Belk Center, I really enjoy the relationships that I’m able to build,” said Whatley. “External to the Belk Center, I appreciate that I’m able to work with faculty, staff and leaders at community colleges in North Carolina that will use the research that I conduct in their decision-making. Moreover, my colleagues in the Belk Center are fantastic. Their excitement, passion and deep insights into our collective work are unparalleled.”

*The Belk Center is currently in the planning stage. It is in compliance with NC State’s Policy on Centers and Institutes.