School of Social Work doctoral student wins prestigious Minority Fellowship Program award

Shani Saxon, a fourth year School of Social Work doctoral student at Wayne State University, has much to celebrate. On track to graduate in December 2024, she’s excited about her future and the opportunities that lie ahead as she explores how Black women’s experiences with racism and racial trauma throughout their lives. Recently, she got the news that she won the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) award for 2023-2024 from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The fellowship is renowned for its commitment to increasing the number of behavioral health professionals who provide direct mental health support and services to the BIPOC community and support aspiring researchers in her field.

Shani Saxon smiling in office “I’m honored to be a recipient. Financially, the fellowship has been a game-changer. It alleviates the financial burden of living expenses, allowing me to fully immerse myself in my studies and research without the distractions of part-time work. This financial stability is crucial to my academic success. Moreover, the fellowship will enrich my skill set significantly. Having an opportunity to work on cutting-edge research projects, collaborating with renowned experts in my field, and attending conferences and workshops that expand my knowledge will make me a more competitive candidate in my chosen career path,” Saxon said.

She’s also grateful for the networking opportunities the fellowship will provide.

“I’ve already established relationships with mentors and peers who continue to guide and inspire me. These connections have opened doors to internships and research opportunities that are propelling my career forward, and I look forward to receiving additional mentorship from CSWE MFP staff,” she said.

Saxon’s mentors at WSU motivated and supported her throughout the fellowship application process and beyond.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the mentorship and guidance I received from my advisor, Dr. J. Lloyd Allen, and also from Dr. Jun Sung Hong during this application process. Dr. Allen encouraged me to apply for the fellowship and then introduced me to Dr. Hong, a prior recipient of the MFP. Their unwavering support and expertise were pivotal in my pursuit of this fellowship. They took the time to review my essays, offering constructive feedback that significantly helped refine my application materials. They both went above and beyond, demonstrating a genuine commitment to my success. Their mentorship was a key factor in my successful application,” Saxon said.

“Shani joined the MFP family, which is a major accomplishment. The MFP is highly competitive, and getting the Minority Fellowship will give her many opportunities to learn to navigate through academia as a minority and network with other scholars with interest in minor mental health. As a former Minority Fellow myself, this program has been tremendously helpful. I highly recommend anyone with interest in minority mental health and/or substance use to apply for this,” said Hong.

Saxon, a passionate activist of social justice, is committed to helping underserved populations and communities achieve their potential through advocacy, equity, and inclusion platforms.

Throughout her academic journey, Saxon has achieved academic milestones such as presenting at the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) conference, becoming a member of the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) Communications Committee, and co-authoring the papers, “Pathways Linking School Safety to Academic Performance in Chicago's Southside” and “Pathways from Polyvictimization to Offline and Online Sexual Harassment Victimization Among South Korean Adolescents.”

“These experiences have solidified my passion for social work and have shaped my career aspirations. Research in the intersections of social justice, sexual abuse, and complex trauma for Black women is essential for achieving equity, raising awareness, and providing support to a vulnerable population. It contributes to broader conversations about justice, equality, and the rights of all individuals, regardless of their race or gender. Through my research, I have the potential to make a meaningful and lasting impact in advancing social justice and contributing to a safer and more equitable world,” she said.

Saxon describes her time in graduate school as “a transformative journey of academic and personal growth.”

“The program has provided a stimulating environment for in-depth exploration of my chosen field, fostering critical thinking and research skills. The ability to have an advisor who is nurturing, knowledgeable, and culturally competent has been a huge benefit. Collaborative projects, engaging discussions, and mentorship from esteemed professors have enriched my understanding of the subject matters I research. It has been a period of rigorous study, with late-night research sessions, and memorable interactions with peers in my cohort who shared my passion. Overall, my graduate college experience has been a challenging, yet rewarding chapter in my educational and professional development.”

Saxon’s future plans will be firmly rooted in social work.

“I plan to seek teaching opportunities that allow me to apply and further develop the skills I've gained during my studies. I'm also considering expanding my private practice to a full-service mental health agency to enhance the lives and mental wellness of the people who live in my community. In the long term, I envision authoring books and traveling the world to see how Black women experience racism and racial trauma across their lifespan,” she said.

In her downtime, Saxon enjoys spending time with her family and relaxing at home. She’s also an avid reader and enjoys getting lost in the pages of a good book.

“It’s not just a hobby, but a way for me to explore different worlds, gain knowledge, and unwind. I'm always open to book recommendations and love discussing literature with fellow book enthusiasts,” she said.

Saxon is looking forward to the coming year now that she has the financial and academic support from the fellowship.

“This fellowship is not only a tremendous honor, but also a significant milestone in my academic and career journey. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the selection committee for believing in my potential. I'm excited about the impact this fellowship will bring, and I can't wait to make the most of this incredible opportunity,” she said.

Author: Laura Hipshire; Editor; Betsy Vanderstelt


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