Tryan L. McMickens, like most professors, has a passion for education. But he took it a step further and channeled his passion into an award-winning study.

McMickens, a 2011 Graduate School of Education Ph.D. graduate, received the 2011-2012 Phi Delta Kappa International Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award last week for his research on historically black colleges and universities.

McMickens was inspired by a column written by 2011 College of Liberal and Professional Studies graduate Christopher Abreu in the Daily Pennsylvanian last year.

In April 2011, Abreu wrote of his disturbing run-in with drunken Penn students spewing racial slurs on his way home one night. Struck by this horrifying account, McMickens began extensive research on how historically black colleges and universities prepare their students for racism in a “post-racial” society.

“Dr. McMickens’ work is compelling and may have implications for predominantly white institutions,” said McMickens’ colleague, 2010 Graduate School of Education Ph.D. Kimberly Truong. “I believe that everyone at Penn should familiarize themselves with his work, especially in light of the recent race incidents that have happened on campus.”

Phi Delta Kappa International, the leading professional association in education, bestowed McMickens with a $5,000 award and will publish a summary of his dissertation, “Racism Readiness as an Educational Outcome for Graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities: A Multi-Campus Grounded Theory Study” in the May 2012 issue of Kappan magazine, PDK International’s flagship publication.

“It is an honor to name Dr. McMickens as the recipient of this award,” said PDK Executive Director Dr. William Bushaw in a press release. “Reviewers were unanimous that his dissertation made an important contribution to the field of education.”

McMickens, now a visiting assistant professor at Suffolk University in Boston, began his research career while completing his doctorate at Penn.

He worked as an assistant to Shaun Harper, director of the Penn Graduate School of Education Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. McMickens said the job “really helped [him] establish a role in the research field.”

Truong worked alongside McMickens as an assistant to Dr. Harper at Penn GSE as well. “Tryan has been an amazing colleague who provides a critical eye, gives honest feedback and infuses conversations with his infectious humor,” Truong said.

McMickens centered his own research on HBCUs, interviewing over 80 alumni and college seniors from 20 HBCUs across America. He was interested in these institutions because “there is this idea that HBCUs are not needed in American society.”

He explains, “HBCUs are actually vital in a cultural society because they prepare students in profound ways … they prepare them to do well in the corporate setting, in the educational setting and in making meaningful contributions to society.”

McMickens was also the first runner-up for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Hardee Dissertation of the Year Award and will present his work at the 2012 NASPA national conference in Phoenix, AZ, next month.

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