Grad student receives seed grant for dissertation research

By Britt Mabry Young

Joanne Rong Wang, a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership at Tennessee State University, has been awarded a $7,000 seed grant from Vanderbilt University’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion to use toward her dissertation research.

Joanne Rong Wang

Wang’s dissertation, entitled Chief Diversity Officers’ Perceptions of the Degree to which a NACUBO Economic Model is Effective in Producing Outcomes Leading to Institutionally Sustainable Diversity Programs, seeks to study the intersection of finance and diversity in higher education.

“There are rapidly changing demographics in education,” Wang said. “By 2065, there will not be a minority race. Higher education has to respond quickly to be market smart.”

Wang was inspired to study this intersectionality by the rising costs of higher education, increasing budget cuts, and the financial challenges universities face. She believes diversity programs are necessary for the future of higher education because they are essentially marketing strategies. With the high investment costs of education, students want to attend colleges and universities that they feel will represent them. However, diversity programs face issues with long-term sustainability due to leadership changes and financial problems.

“Lots of educational models and leadership have been used to examine outcomes [in diversity programs], but I’m examining them from a business perspective,” Wang said.

When the call for grants was announced, Wang decided to submit her dissertation, which is still in the proposal stage at TSU. More than 60 prospective grants were reviewed and 29 were funded. Wang plans to use the grant to help further her research by funding travel to conferences and hiring statisticians and editors for her dissertation.

Wang is especially excited about an upcoming conference that the grant is funding. She plans to attend the National Association of College and University Business Officers Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she will meet Dr. Jacalyn Askin, the project manager for NACUBO’s Higher Education Economic Models Project. NACBUO is an organization that represents financial officers, whose mission is “to advance the economic viability, business practices and support for higher education institutions in fulfillment of their missions.” After reading a paper Askin had authored, Wang contacted her to discuss her research findings, and the two have been in constant communication ever since. Askin, who sits on Wang’s dissertation committee, will meet in person for the first-time.

Currently, Wang works for Vanderbilt University’s School of Engineering, where she plans, organizes, and executes special projects for the school. She earned an Education Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision with a concentration in Higher Education and a Master of Science in Mass Communications from Middle Tennessee State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from her home country of China. Wang decided to pursue her doctorate at TSU because she wanted to focus on higher education. TSU is the only middle Tennessee institution that offers a doctorate with an emphasis on higher education. She was also awarded an assistantship working for the dean of the Graduate School, which she thought was a good opportunity.

“Experimenting with different universities has made me expand my view. Each one is very different. TSU is one of few HBCUs in this area, and now I work at Vanderbilt, a PWI. No matter public or private, they’re all different, and all of their diversity plans are different,” Wang said.


Britt Mabry Young is an intern in the Office of University Publications. She is a master’s level student in the College of Education at TSU working on an independent study project with a focus on communications.


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