Mentorship as a means to social change

Mentorship as a means to social change

Rice political science graduate student Liana Eustacia Reyes is passionate about mentorship. So, in 2018, with the support of faculty and fellow students, she founded the Minorities in Social Sciences (MSS) group at Rice ⁠— and she did so in large part to help the greater Houston community.

Liana Eustacia Reyes, Ph.D. student in Political Science at Rice University“Rice students really wanted this,” she said, “and not just for happy hours but as a resource, so we’ve had grant writing workshops, research panels, and networking events. And from the beginning, I said if we are going to do this, it has to benefit not just current students but those who don’t have access to Rice.”

Reyes set her sights on reaching underserved students in the Houston area. With faculty and student support, MSS held an event for students from Northside High School, facilitated by both Dr. Rick Wilson, professor of Political Science at Rice, and Dr. Sonia Noyola, an instructor at Northside and a Rice graduate.

The goal for MSS was to provide mentorship to the students about their options for higher education. It covered topics like research intensive career paths, how to apply for college and find funding, how to overcome your resource constraints and be competitive, and how to succeed once you’re in a program. They were also given a chance to collaborate on experiments with Dr. Wilson and meet with graduate students (Linnea Ng, Cassandra Phetmisy, and Allegra Hernandez) and faculty at Rice (Dr. Michelle Torres, Dr. Ashley Leeds, Dr. Matthew Hayes, and Dr. Danielle King). 

“The students I saw in front of me at our event did not see Rice as an option,” Reyes said. “They think about what bills they need to pay tomorrow, what resources they don’t have compared to Rice students, not about going to a private university. But by bringing them here, we communicate that yes, Rice is an option. We are here to help make it an option. And if one of those students ends up applying to grad school even if it’s 5 years from now that is a huge accomplishment.” 

“Talking to students in high school and community college is important,” she said. “The reason I do outreach is because I have had a very long-winded and inefficient path to grad school, and that’s because I didn’t really have mentors or anyone to help guide me.”

For Reyes, mentorship is not as much about hand-holding as it is about efficiency. “It’s someone you can go to to check your ideas and strategies with, someone who prevents you from making the same mistakes they did and can help you be more strategic, someone who can introduce you to information that would otherwise take you years to come across. I have that with Cliff Morgan, but I didn’t have that before,” she explained.

Reyes withdrew from high school before attending community college. She eventually earned her Juris Doctor from Florida International University where she finally encountered a professor who saw her passion for research and encouraged her to pursue it. 

“If I had better mentors early-on, I could have found out then that I loved research. Someone might have told me, you could get paid to study what you love, research what you love.”

Now in the fourth year of her Ph.D. program, Reyes is researching a topic she’s incredibly passionate about.

“I am a conflict scholar,” she said. “Conflict was what always interested me about international politics. I lived in Kendall when Hurricane Andrew hit. I lived in Venezuela when the government collapsed. I grew up with a lot of instability and yet there were people around me who experienced even more instability but engaged in business transactions, contracts, marriages and divorces. These day-to-day things all continue to happen during conflict, and I am really curious about that. How and why do people find order in conflict settings, and does the particular order they lean on have implications for conflict processes and outcomes like dispute resolution?”

Reyes said she will continue with mentorship because she wants to see more underrepresented minorities studying related topics in her field and contributing their unique perspectives. She hopes to hold events at Rice every semester for students in Houston who may be interested in social science, but who may not even know that they’re interested or may not know how to turn those interests into a research career.

She credits her colleagues in the School of Social Sciences for their support in getting MSS off the ground — from the MSS leadership board (Matt Lamb, Marques Zarate, Yesmar Oyarzun, Igor Hernandez, and Linnea NG), to fellow grad students, faculty, and staff — and encourages all students to get involved.

“MSS is open to everybody,” she said. “What’s most important is that we are trying to build a community for underrepresented students, particularly students of color. It’s about building a long-term community extending in and outside of academia.”

Want to know more about Minorities in Social Sciences at Rice? Learn more here or find them on Twitter and get involved! To reach out to Liana, visit her website here or find her on Twitter. More information on the School of Social Sciences can be found here.