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UNITE predoctoral program welcomes 18 students

The UNited In True Racial Equity Research Priority Area (UNITE RPA) welcomed its inaugural cohort of 18 graduate students from 6 colleges to the UNITE Predoctoral Research Enhancement Program. 

UNITE is led by Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D., and associate vice president for research, diversity and inclusion. She created this program in 2022, with support from the Office of the Vice President for Research, Office of Institutional Diversity and The Graduate School, to engage and support scholars who enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in Ph.D. programs at UK. The program is aligned with university priorities to create cultures of inclusive excellence while integrating students into the world of research and academia. 

“The UNITE Predoctoral Research Enhancement Program is designed to meet the needs of exceptionally talented graduate students, determined to achieve success in the lab and the classroom,” said Lisa Cassis, Ph.D., vice president for research. “Through this effort, we are providing a new way to establish greater equity and demonstrate our commitment to fostering an inclusive culture of research success.”

The enhancement program will provide a stipend for students in addition to funding from their home college and department. Each fellow will also receive annual funding to support research-related expenses such as travel or equipment needs.

“Diverse students face unique social and cultural barriers to success when completing a Ph.D. program,” said Stevens-Watkins, a professor of education, school and counseling psychology. “From my own lived experience of this difficult process nearly two decades ago, I was compelled to create a program to increase support for diverse Ph.D. students at UK. We received an overwhelming number of applications from stellar candidates which speaks to the needs of our students. The commitment that our colleges administrators and faculty mentors demonstrate is extremely valuable and vital for student success. It is my sincere hope we can continue our support and intentionally foster success to increase diversity in the pipeline of research scholars entering the professorate.” 

2022 Cohort

  • Daniel Benitez (Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Kristen Buford (Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Brittany Cannon (Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology, College of Education)
  • Pasama Cole-Kweli (Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Eric Ingram (Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Yolanda Jackson (Communication, College of Communication and Information)
  • Monyae Kerney (Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology, College of Education)
  • Olukemi Kolawole (Educational Policy Studies & Evaluation, College of Education)
  • Rujeko Machinga-Asaolu (College of Social Work)
  • Jessica Maras (Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences)
  • James Murray (Educational Policy Studies & Evaluation, College of Education)
  • Oluwatosin Obisesan (Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Aiemere Oikeh (Health Management and Policy, College of Public Health)
  • Odunayo Omotilewa (Educational Policy Studies & Evaluation, College of Education)
  • Christopher Penn (Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Sarret Seng (College of Nursing)
  • Jillian Silva-Jones (Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences)
  • Adam Tristán (Communication, College of Communication and Information)


Created in 2020, the overall goal of the UNITE Research Priority Area is to elevate impactful research on racial equity and increase racial diversity at the University of Kentucky by leveraging existing strengths and forging new relationships. 

As the population of people of color in the Commonwealth continues to grow, the UNITE RPA finds it critical to develop, engage and promote racial equity through research to impact change. UNITE also seeks to foster mutually beneficial relationships between the university, faculty researchers, and Black and Latinx, indigenous and other communities of color. The UNITE RPA is committed to designing and supporting research-focused programs that engage historically underrepresented communities, students and faculty. Learn more at the UNITE RPA site.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.