Student Perspectives on Diversity and Access

Place Matters: Roman Ruiz is researching spatial dimensions of college access

Roman Ruiz is a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. He is a member of Penn's Fontaine Society, which supports the education of the most underrepresented groups in Ph.D. education. Roman talks about his own educational and professional paths and his research trajectory.


Student Perspectives on Diversity

“Having an academic background rooted in issues of activism and community, I found it necessary that the institution I chose to continue my education must: (1) be deeply invested in issues of equity and inclusion, (2) actively commit to community-wide engagement, and (3) reside within an urban city that provides relevant context regarding social justice—all of which Penn GSE provides. Ultimately, I believe that I’ve made the right decision as I’ve had the pleasure of meeting students and faculty who share the same values and have supported me along the way.”

– Aaminah Long

Master’s student, Higher Education

“Penn GSE captivated me from the start. The strong focus on social justice, equity, and equality within education is something that is shared by students, staff and faculty. The classroom, my program, and Penn GSE overall is a space in which I can be surrounded by like-minded individuals yet also be challenged in my critical thinking skills. Apart from the academic prestige, Penn GSE is very much a welcoming and community-oriented space that creates an environment in which students can interact with one another outside of an academic setting and create networks with each other and faculty.”

– Albany Vegas

Master’s student, Society, Culture, and Education

“Penn GSE has a deep rooted commitment to issues of equity, inclusion, and access, all of which I am most passionate about. There are also plenty of opportunities to engage in work with faculty and putting into practice the theories discussed in the classroom. With their numerous research centers, community partnerships, and rigorous coursework, I felt that Penn GSE would continue to push me to grow personally and professionally.”

– Ezeanne Fonge

Master’s student, Higher Education

“My decision to attend Penn GSE was made during Preview Weekend in March, when I had the chance to meet peers, alumni, and faculty who each, because of their diverse backgrounds, offered unique perspectives on the current challenges facing education. Upon enrolling, I became surrounded by the world-class faculty members who genuinely care about your academic and professional development, while challenging your own views by offering different lenses through which to learn about how the curriculum matters in context. It is clear that Penn GSE holds diversity at the core of its mission, and with the growing diversity of the youth population, we are continually able to address issues and create solutions for modern education.”

– Matt Jernigan

Master’s student, Higher Education

“I decided to attend Penn GSE because I wanted to attend an institution that had challenging coursework, excellent faculty, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion. I was also drawn in by the idea of learning to be a practitioner-scholar so that I can be a better advocate for those students who traditionally lack access to higher education.”

– Erin Waddles

Master’s student, Higher Education

“I am most impressed by Penn GSE’s dedication to access and equity in education and experienced this commitment during a prospective students’ weekend the fall before I applied. Having attended a large undergraduate university, I knew that I wanted to explore the enterprise of higher education institutions at a smaller school, where I could receive mentorship and training from top scholars in the field. The coursework and opportunities to engage with faculty and students provide unparalleled experience in analyzing critical issues in education and create space for conversations to begin solving those problems in the future. "

– Gary L. Davis

Master’s student, Higher Education

Vanessa Williams

“After doing due diligence of surveying the top education schools in the country, I found that Penn GSE was the best place for me for 3 main reasons: 1) the kind, supportive, intellectually challenging, and brilliant world-class faculty; 2) the family-oriented style of relationships among our entire department, 3) and most importantly, the sociocultural focus and strong commitment to social justice within our local communities and global contexts. Ultimately, Penn GSE is a place where I can theorize from the mind and heart, a place for me to grow my scholarship and activism. The faculty, curriculum, and my colleagues here at Penn GSE truly understand how to support the development of a person holistically and I cannot imagine myself in any other program. ”


–Victoria Gill

Ed.D. student, Reading, Writing & Literacy



“I chose Penn GSE because at my core, I was attracted to the intimacy and connectedness that Penn GSE offered. Because Penn GSE is a relatively small school, with small-sized programs, the school offers me the chance to develop really strong relationships with world-class faculty, staff, and colleagues that other schools could not provide. Penn GSE also deeply values innovation and passion, having multiple partnerships with community organizations, entrepreneurship incubators, and schools within the Philadelphia community. Finally, Penn GSE is situated in an urban city that provides the appropriate and relevant context for both informing and reforming public education in the U.S.”

–Serrano LeGrand

Ed.D. student, Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education


“During preview weekend, I met peers in previous and current Penn GSE cohorts who were deeply invested in issues of equity and inclusion, and who actively called for a community-wide commitment to these issues, even within the Penn GSE Higher Education program itself. I knew these peers were who I would want to learn from and alongside."

–Frances Nan

Master’s student, Higher Education