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Daphné Vanessa

Shamil Rodriguez



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About This Episode

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (@ijeomakola) not only obtained her Bachelor’s degree from Harvard and her Master’s/Ph.D. from Columbia without taking on any student loan debt, she also built an online community for Black women, centered around travel and higher education that helped contribute to that goal. As you might imagine, Dr. Kola is at the top of her game, but she doesn’t stop there.

Dr. Kola is the founder of Cohort Sistas is a digital network that supports black women and non-binary doctoral candidates to help reduce the barriers to entry and increase completion by providing resources, mentorship, and community.

Registration is now open for the 2021-22 Sista Circle Mentorship Program. Learn more here if you are interested in finding a mentor or would to become a mentor.


  • How Dr. Kola obtained four degrees without having to take on any student loan debt;
  • How she used blogging and building an online brand to help pay for her Ph.D.; 
  • The mission behind Cohort Sistas and the importance of mentorship for black and non-binary doctoral candidates; and
  • much, much more…


Enjoying the show? Leave us a rating and review. Every comment helps! Drop in your IG handle so we can thank you personally!

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (00:00): I really believe that we can support the socio-emotional growth and wellness of black women in doctoral programs. Not only does that translate to better academic and professional outcomes, but it makes everyone better. Everyone is happy. Everyone succeeds. We have more women in academia which can kind of help this pipeline problem that we have. They're only like 2% a tenured faculty are blocker, which is just insane.

The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:25): Welcome to the student loan podcast. Here. You'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses and inspiring stories about paying off student loans. We're your hosts, Daphne Vanessa and Shamil Rodriguez.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:44): Last week we had Mike Kleba, author, cohost of New York ed tech meetup, and 20 plus year veteran of teaching in public schools.

Daphné Vanessa (00:54): And he climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Yes.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:56): And he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro very well said to share some of the insights in his recent book called Otherful, that you can find on Amazon, by the way, link in the show notes that talks about leadership in teaching. So teaching through leadership, changing the culture around teaching so that they can be a better experience for teachers and the students that are also receiving the information. So if you're looking to learn a little bit more about that information, you can visit the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 40. Before we begin, we have a message from a very special VIP, please rate, review and subscribe to the Student Loan podcast, this is not professional advice. And we speak from our own personal views and opinions.

Daphné Vanessa (01:42): The student loan podcast is brought to you by start new, where you can serve your community and get rewarded with tuition and student loan payments to check out if start new is on your campus, visit start new.com. Welcome everyone to another episode of the student loan podcast. Today we have Dr. Ijeoma Kola who is so successful in a lot of different ways. She's accomplished everything from establishing nonprofits to completing her PhD. Many of you may already be familiar with her. She's all over you too. She has a huge following on Instagram. She's everywhere. And we are so excited to have her on, to share a lot of the accomplishments that she's had. Not only personally, but professionally. So with that, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (02:30): Thank you so much for having me Daphne and Shamil so a little bit about myself. Goodness, where do I start? So I am Nigerian. I was born in Nigeria, but I grew up in America. I'm a Jersey girl. So most of my life spent most of my life on the Northeast. And then, but most recently as in like literally three days ago, just moved to Indiana and there've been a couple of different pit stops in between New Jersey and Indiana. I'm including some time in Boston, New York and most recently Nairobi, but it's been a really interesting journey, kind of like just happened around the world and pursuing education. Essentially. That's kind of what always moved me somewhere. So I moved to Boston area for college, which New York city for graduate school, I guess, moved to Nairobi, not for college or for school moved to Nairobi for love back in, back in Indiana to do a postdoc.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (03:26): So I am a historian of public health. I have my PhD in sociomedical sciences from Columbia university, where I studied the history of asthma and black, urban America. So essentially I examine the changing medical ideas, medical and cultural ideas about asthma as it relates to black people. So susceptibility to asthma perceptions that doctors have about lack adherence to asthma medication cause of asthma, et cetera. So I do that want to say mostly, but actually not, that's not true at all. Mostly a lot of content creation and community building. So I also work as a blogger and influencer. I've been blogging for over a decade, which the more and more that I think about that, I'm just like you I've been on the internet for way too long.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (04:15): Yeah. So I, I now lifestyle blogger, I started off as a hair and beauty blogger, but now firmly a lifestyle blogger. And I also run a nonprofit called cohort systems, which supports black women pursuing doctoral degrees. So what else about me? I love traveling, which is super cliche, but I really do love traveling. My name is safe journey, so I love to be on a plane somewhere or doing something. And I have a really adorable almost two year old year and a half year old son right now. So with not by myself, with my husband, that's a little bit about me.

Daphné Vanessa (04:53): We love it. I knew a lot of that. So Chanel, I'm going to offer the first question to you cause I've been following you since my natural hair journey as you know. But yeah, Chevelle, I'm handing it over to you actually to do the first question. Okay.

Shamil Rodriguez (05:10): Right. Sure. So thank you so much for joining us. I know we've been really excited to have you on the podcast. So we cover student loans here on the standalone podcast and what I thought would be really interesting for people to say, well, why else? Cause I think your organizations are so amazing. We're going to get to those. So don't worry, but you were able to get three degrees for free. So like let's not just like skip over that because that is something we should definitely highlight. So doctor Dr. Kola. Yes,

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (05:39): Absolutely. The way that I was able to get them all without incurring any student loan debt, we're a bit different, so I'll break them down. So I, my three degrees actually technically have four, but I count my two masters as one. I have a bachelor's degree. I have a master of arts and a master of philosophy as well, a doctoral degree. So for my bachelor's degree, I think two things kind of helped me kind of get out of my undergraduate degree without any student loan debt. Number one was when I was actually applying to different schools I negotiated which is something that I think people really don't realize they have the power to do. You know, you submit your FAFSA, you get back your financial aid package. And you're like, well, I thought it was going to be less money. But what I was able to do is I had a bunch of different offers from kind of bunch, but I had several different offers from other colleges.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (06:30): And I went back to ended up going to Harvard for undergrad. And I went back to Harvard. I think I forget exactly what they had wanted me to pay, but I was like, Hey, I would love to come here. But you know, this other school is offering me, you know, X amount in financial aid. So, you know, what can you do? And just being able to use that kind of negotiation tactic that I think we, we learn about not when we're in college or rather in high school, but we've kind of learned about once we are done with college, you know, maybe starting a job that's when people talk about negotiation skills, but that those skills and those strategies can actually be helpful for the college process. So when I was able to negotiate a slightly higher financial aid package, because I had the leverage, I had the ability to say, Hey, I would, you know, these other schools are giving the X amount of money.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (07:14): So what can you do? So that's one thing. But secondly, which is probably the bigger and more impactful reason that I was able to get through undergrad without any student loan debt is that I was fortunate enough to have parents who really prioritized education and also were in a financial state in which they could support our education. So my parents told I had two other brothers. And so they told us like, as long as you get, I think it was like a B plus or something, as long as your debt and your GPA is above a certain amount, we will pay for your education. Now that doesn't mean that I didn't apply for scholarships. I had, you know, I was a national merit scholar. So I had scholarships through that. I ended up going to a school that had a need-based financial aid program, just also super helpful.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (07:58): So based on our family salary, there was already just like a base amount of financial aid we were eligible for. Then I negotiated and then my parents were willing and able to pay the difference. I'm pretty short term. I don't remember if my memory serves me correctly, that's starting to fade, but I think that they, I think it was around like $10,000, 10 between 10 and $12,000 for each of the four years. You know, I could have ended up graduating with $40,000 in student loan debt. You know, if they hadn't been able to support me in that way they such a blessing and I'm so grateful to them. And I think they, they really have taught me a lot about finances and I'm always so impressed because they're they're immigrants. You know, they came to a new country, figured out, they figured out how to hack the system, really to navigate the system, but to hack the system I'm in, we're able to put three kids through to through school. So shout out to them. So that was my undergraduate degree. Although, you know, they were, they were also like, we're only paying for tuition, right. And nothing else.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (09:03): And you know, if I wanted to go somewhere, if I wanted to eat something that was not on the student meal plan to come from my own paycheck and not have their money. So that was undergrad then for my masters and PhD program what I actually ended up doing quick, I would not necessarily recommend, but I started my PhD right when I graduated college. So some people don't realize that you can actually go into a PhD program in some disciplines without having a master's degree. First, some schools require a master's degree, but some don't. So I applied straight into a PhD program. And the reason I was told to do that and advice to do that is because I didn't actually know at that time, whether I wanted a PhD, like I was what, 21, I didn't know what I wanted out of my life, but someone told me, you know, just apply for the PhD.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (09:52): If you get into it, then you can, you get your master's along the way. And like worst case scenario, you have a Frymaster. So that was the attitude that I had going into my PhD program. And that's how I got a free master's because I got into a program that gave you your master's degree along the way. So that's how I got my master's of arts. And it was free and not only was it free, but you know, as a doctoral student, I had a site that I went to a fully mostly fully funded program worked for the first two years of my program. I was given a very modest stipend, which with which I could pay my rent and buy food and et cetera, et cetera. So I didn't have to take out any loans for additional expenses. I did have to live with three roommates, Harlem, not cutting it. It was not enough for New York and you know, the New York life stuff, 23rd street, more like above 140 fifth street.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (10:52): That was the life that I was living. So that's how I got my, my master's degree for free. And then my PhD, the, when I first got into the program, I was given five years of funding, but my PhD took longer than five years. And so when I was coming onto the sixth year, I was like, okay, well, you know, I don't have money or I don't have funding anymore. And which means like I don't have money, no, one's paying my tuition. And also no one's paying a stipend for me. So I had to figure out how I was going to pay a tuition as well as how I was going to cover my own living expenses. And luckily by that time, not luckily it was intentionally, I would say I'm starting in my fifth, fourth, maybe halfway through my fourth year of my PhD program.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (11:33): I had been blogging for a couple of years by then. And I realize, you know, there's actually like money that can be made in blogging space. So I got really serious about blogging as a business and like not hobby blogging. I had, you know, I had my LLC and I was actively working on with brands because I knew that I like by year six, I would have no money and I would need to be able to have, be able to make an annual income from blogging and to replace my dad at school income. So I was able to do that for the sixth and unfortunately seventh, I wasn't planning on be there the 16, 17 years of my PhD. I didn't take on having to take out any loans because I was able to use my blogging income to cover my living expenses. And also my tuition was like $3,000 a year by then. Cause I was basically just writing my dissertation. Yeah. So that is essentially how I got all three of my degrees without incurring any student loan debt. So a combination of things, strategic planning, parental support, as well as hustling. Yeah.

Daphné Vanessa (12:38): We love the hustle story. So for the members of our audience who are maybe interested in a PhD, but don't know what a fully funded program means. Do you mind explaining that to

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (12:50): Them? Absolutely. So a PhD, I think differently from going to a, getting a bachelor's degree or even a master's degree, typically doctoral students are expected to conduct research to assist with research and to perform research activities on behalf of the school. So a fully funded program means that a program is paying your tuition. So paying for your registration fees and the cost of you enrolling in classes. But on top of that, they're also paying you. We call it in grad school, a stipend, but essentially a salary they're paying you a salary for the time that you're spending doing labor for them. And it's just a very different way of thinking about school because undergrad, masters, you're just paying tuition. But when you're in a doctoral program and not everyone thinks about it like this, you should think about it like this. You are doing work for the school.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (13:40): You are producing research for this. It's a job. It really is a job. And you go to class for a class on the job. So a fully funded program will pay for the entirety of your tuition as well as providing you with a stipend. Now that could be, the deal can be for a year, two years, five years, six years, seven years. And that's kind of where you need to do your research about which programs have more funding. They also like external fellowships you can apply for, but finding a fully funded PhD program is in my opinion, the only way to do a PhD program because otherwise you're paying somebody to work for that.

Daphné Vanessa (14:19): Nope. Thank you for sharing that. I think that's really useful to people who might be interested. I know a few people who are in the exploration phase, I have friends who have PhDs in all different fields and it's, it's a journey, right? You guys really go through a labor of love. You can call it. It's one of those things that I'm sorry, law school is only three years. So like you can do it and not want to do, but 5, 6, 7 years. That's, that's a labor of love. I respect that a lot. So, okay, great. We S we spoke about the ultra success story in that you can go to school and obtain the ultimate pinnacle of academic success, write a PhD for free it's completely possible. And you just have to plan and hustle. Talk to us about your hustle and maintaining that blog and doing that business while still pursuing your academic studies.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (15:17): Absolutely. So, as I mentioned, I think about my third, fourth year, I realized that was around what 2015 or 16. I, I think that was when, like the blogging influencer industry kind of started to really go off, I would say. And because I had already started making videos in, I think 2010, and I started my blog in 2013. So I had already been kind of creating content for a while and had established, let's do a little following, no kind of brand strategy, but I had like a little audience that was continually growing. And so it was just really fun for me. So it started off with just something. I was like, it was a distraction, actually. It was a distraction from school. It was kind of their release from the stress and the rigor of and the insecurity that I had as a student student.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (16:03): And, you know, as I said, I was super young, so I didn't feel like I belonged there and blogging and kind of just doing my hair. It was just like a way to forget about all of that. But then I also was, and maybe this is, I don't know if this is my Nigerian upbringing, but if there was money, I'm not leaving that day, I realized that the second I realized that people were being paid to take pictures and make videos. I was like, oh, okay. So I did a lot of research and I think this is where being a student helps because, you know, there are people who have also been creating content for as long as I have, but, you know, maybe they just aren't taking the time to do, I would do in-depth market research about, okay, how much should I be paying and how do I create pitch decks to brands?

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (16:53): And how do I how do I kind of figure out a strategy in order to create a voice for my audience? So I get a lot of research to kind of figure out how to maximize my own potential in the blogging industry, as it was continuing to evolve. And it has been evolving super fast, you know, like real world as being what T last year or two years ago. And so every time there's something new, you know, you have to keep on top of what is working, what's not working. How should you spend your time? Which platforms like Periscope came and then light that and died came and then that and I think happy a researcher or being trained to be a researcher kind of healthy in that respect. So I just continued to invest time. Although that time was taken away from my school.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (17:42): And I said earlier, I didn't mean to be there for seven years, that my goal was to finish in six years and had I not blogging a hundred percent, I would have finished earlier. Got it. But I needed to blog not only for financial reasons, but also for, for just my own sanity. Like I just, I needed something else to do outside of. Yeah. So yeah, essentially just studied the industry and kind of doubled down on how I was going to grow. And I wasn't stingy because I wasn't getting, because for the first like five years of my program where I was still blogging and insane getting the fellowship, I was able to kind of put money aside because I knew that my, basically the expenses would be covered by the school, but then anything extra, you know, that would, I would have to kind of find that from the blog, but because I was not earning a solid amount of money, I could invest into photography and investing in preset, which kind of elevated my brand in a way that I think probably helped my, my progression.

Shamil Rodriguez (18:41): I like how your parents basically their model of we'll cover the basics. You've got to cover the rest, call the follow through. Yeah,

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (18:49): Definitely. That's a great, I didn't think about it that way, but that's really accurate. That's very, I always believe in multiple income streams, but where does that income stream is your parents or main job and your side hustle money coming in from different ways.

Daphné Vanessa (19:05): Yes. and you didn't go to any school. You went to top schools, right? You, you mentioned your undergraduate

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (19:13): Alma mater. Yes. So I went to Harvard university or undergrad, or technically Harvard college for undergrad Symantec. And then my graduate degrees were at Columbia. So and I think a misconception, a quick misconception conception, a quick misconception that I think people have about Ivy leagues are that they are expensive and that's not a breach, so they are expensive, but I believe schools have really large endowments. So they actually have some of the best, like most well-funded schools with the best financial aid packages. I've actually had to explain this to a lot of my friends and family who are younger friends and family who are like, oh, I would love to go there, but I can't afford it. I'm like, it's free. Like they, at this point they have made it like below a certain income. So like just apply, apply first. And then we can, we could talk about the money later, but don't feel like, oh, it's too expensive because you just assume because of the name that you can never go there for financial reasons, a lot of really big name schools have really robust financial aid programs sometimes even more robust than local or state school.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (20:25): So please don't write off at any kind of institution until you actually get a financial aid aid package. And you kind of know what the number is you're working with.

Daphné Vanessa (20:34): I just want to rewind a little bit because just attaining that level, that caliber of, of university is a dream for so many people, including a lot of our listeners in this, in our audience. So what do you think were the differentiating factors in your application that helped you get into Harvard, which probably helped your application to Columbia? I'm assuming, but I'm not on the admissions.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (21:00): I mean, I'm not either, if I don't know, I can, a couple of things I did go to a really at least that's what they told us a really well-respected private school in New Jersey. And this is actually where my parents hustle starts. So my parents got older three, all three of their kids into this like bougie elite private school in, in Northern New Jersey where tuition high school tuition was $30,000 in 2005. And so, but we were on full scholarship, you know, we didn't pay anything for me, but I think we paid for whatever trips and uniforms, but we didn't pay tuition. And so yeah, so my parents, I think had, had figured out you know, that EDUC, there are opportunities, there are ways to access high quality education without having to pay for it. And so they aren't yet that I don't really know what they did. I don't know how they got of it in the first place, because I started going there when I was okay. But so we went to a really good private school. And then, you know, when I was in school, I, I was a nerd. I am. So I think anyone who gets a PhD, you just gotta admit urinary. Yes, I did really well in classes. I'm a, I'm a pretty good test taker. And then I had, I guess in both extracurriculars to sing it interesting enough to get

Daphné Vanessa (22:29): It. Yeah. So classic formula. But wasn't sure if there was anything unique that you thought gave you an edge, but I think you, you hit it on the head, right? Maybe it's that connection because at the top 10 prep schools and certain other schools, Harvard, Yale, they all come on campus actually. And they do tours for us. So they they'll interview you onsite, essentially. So that was the edge. And a learning example for the audience is don't write off prep schools either, right. Because that's an opportunity to really open up doors later.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (23:07): Absolutely. And those also have financial aid packages. Yes. Yes.

Daphné Vanessa (23:13): Well, thank you for sharing that. That's super helpful. I want to move into your mission of today. Right now you've accomplished so much and you're using that to help other people explain to us your nonprofit today cohort system and how it helps young black women or maybe old, but people pursuing.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (23:35): Yeah. So it's for young, old anyone, as long as they self identify as black and either a woman or non-binary that we're not picky about cohort is a nonprofit that supports black women and non-binary people pursuing doctoral degrees. It's research-based doctoral degrees doesn't matter where you are in the world. And it was really created out of my own personal experiences, as well as discussions I've had with tons of people who are either have PhDs or Eeds or are on that on the way to that journey. And there's just not enough of us. Like you go to school and you're really excited. And you're the oldest, you're the only, you know, not only are you the only person in your classroom, you're sometimes the only black woman ended apartment, or if there's another black woman faculty, she is, you know, she has heaps and heaps of departmental service commitments, cause she was the only black person.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (24:28): So they put her on everything. We'll come in here just to say that they have diverse representation on that committee. So shank outside for you look at our token here. Exactly. And so there's definitely, there's a huge gap in terms of mentorship and support and community for it's all black people. It's not specific to black women, you know, black men are also underrepresented in doctoral education. And the cohort system is really designed to bring that sisterhood. And that familiarity that I think I realized existed in what's possible on the internet. When I started blogging, I kind of applied this idea of digital community from the natural hair slash blogging space. It was like, you know, if we can all gather around and be excited about one another's hair, we can definitely support one another in sexual education. So kind of apply that principle and started this digital nonprofit.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (25:20): And so we have a couple of different things that we do. We have a podcast the cohort systems podcast, where we interviewed black women who have their doctoral degrees and kind of talk about the struggles and successes of their journey. We have different professional development and social events covering a variety of topics and also have a mentorship program that actually enrollment just launched for, for the 20 21, 20 22 academic year. So what we do, we really believe in small group mentorship. So we pair three to four women with one mentor on a similar discipline, or maybe they're all international students and they, and they want to understand, they want to be able to talk to someone who has that kind of experience. And so we paired them together. They meet monthly, we also provide additional resources and support just kind of get people through.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (26:08): I think there are a lot of programs to help you apply to graduate programs, you know, they're fee waivers, but what do we do when people are actually in the program, struggling, not speaking up in class, you know, not having any community because they are the only person there. And so they're afraid and they have imposter syndrome and they're not confident now their grades are struggling and then they can't apply to fellowships. Like if there's, if we can just support, I really believe that we can support the socio-emotional growth and wellness of black women in doctoral programs. Not only does that translate to better academic and professional outcomes, but it makes everyone better. Everyone is happy, everyone succeeds. We have more women in academia which can kind of help this pipeline problem that we have. They're only like 2% a tenured faculty or blocker, which is just insane. So yeah, that's, that's the work that I'm, that I'm really passionate about now. And then I'm pursuing right now. It's amazing.

Daphné Vanessa (27:03): Amazing. You are the master of the pivot. You go from from natural hair to lifestyle, to lifestyle, beauty, family, home decor, to education, to empowering a whole group of next generation women, which is so amazing. And w let's talk about what that means for society too, right? Because we're talking about getting them through the degree, but what that means for society is there is now more representation in so many industries that lack black and non-binary women, right? Presentation.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (27:43): Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there are all these, you know, tech companies or consulting companies, that'll say who we tried to hire people, but they just weren't there that's no longer an excuse. We are going to make it so that not only are we there, but we're finishing cause there's nothing to finish. What's one thing to get into a program, to finish a program. Then it's a whole nother thing. I finished a program and not be so scarred by it that you never want to use your degree, which is where I was two years ago, I finished our program and I was like, I never want to look at this again. Never want to do this again because I just had been through so much trauma getting my doctoral degrees. We want to support people so that by the time they finish, they're there, they get their PhDs, they get their doctor of education, their, their doctor of psychology.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (28:27): They can go into policy work, they can do nonprofit work, they can do consulting, they can do government work. They can be professors like they can do anything. And, and like use their knowledge and their expertise really that they've cultivated over the past several years and make a difference in society and society. But we can't, we can't have that happen if people are finishing their doctoral degree and just mad at the world. All right. Because it is, there's so many different elements of doctoral education that is really oppressive and abusive and so many microaggressions. And so I never blame anyone who's like on never want to do this again. I never want to talk about this again. I am blaming, I do not blame people for that, but how much more impacting we have if we come out of our programs whole and happy and exciting to do excited to do additional work with our scholarship.

Daphné Vanessa (29:18): Absolutely. Talk to us about some of those microaggressions and experiences that made the program, such a challenge and made you not want to look back.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (29:31): Yeah. I'll talk about two specific experiences. And I think for me, I was never quite sure whether what I was experiencing was because I was so young or because I was black or because I was a woman pounding. I don't know what the reason is, but something's not adding up one experience in my first year, I wanted to write a paper about media representations of asthma. So I wanted to do a comparison of, you know, as an advertisements in black journals and magazines, like essence, Ebony and jet and whatnot, and then compare it with more white slash popular magazines, like good housekeeping and stuff. That was, it was like, not even in the sixties and seventies, like how are they talking about asthma? And was there a difference between how pharmaceutical companies were advertising asthma medications to different populations? I was like, oh, that's such a good idea.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (30:26): And the professor of the class was like, oh, you know, I don't really think there's anything special in terms of discussing race and asthma. So I think you should just completely scrap the idea. And so he completely invalidated my research idea that I was really excited about, but also kind of invalidated this idea that you should study race and I'm not even studying race, but I like what I study is racism. I study people's perception of race and how that embeds itself into institutions and into society and into medical care that then impacts people's health. But he comes out and validated my work and my research idea. Luckily I listened to him. I wrote the paper anyway, [inaudible] one example. Another example was I had gone to this workshop and this was kind of more broad, but I'd gone to this workshop. There's a book that came out called presumed and competent.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (31:19): There's a great book. If anyone is interested to read about the experiences of black and Latino Latinex women faculty. So in this workshop, they were talking about how black female faculty, black and brown female faculty. I kind of mentioned this earlier, but let me back up a little bit. When you're a professor, there are three things that you're expected to do in terms of peer kind of going out for promotion for high, for tenure, three things that the school wants you to do. They want you, they want you to teach, perform research and also perform service. And like you're evaluated on those three things. Like how well are you teaching? How much research are you publishing? And then what service are you doing? And so studies have shown repeatedly like the past forever that black and brown women, women period end up taking on more service roles.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (32:07): So we end up sitting on more committees. We ended up being the person to buy the cookies for the department lunch or whatever. So that's that. But then on top of that, black and brown women perform additional service specifically in the interest of, you know, this like idea that schools have like diversity, but there's like, oh, we're now interested in diversity. And we now care about BiPAP voices. So we want to hear your voice so that you were put on all these committees. And then you're mentoring a lot of students in ways that a white male faculty isn't doing. So he has time. Cause he's not saying it's not a full committee. So he has time to work on his research and to teach his class. And you're being burdened with additional work, but you're not being paid anymore. And your students are disrespecting you and their parents are calling you complaining about their grade.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (32:53): And somebody in the hallway is like, Hey, call you by your first name. Cause they don't believe or understand or yeah, they don't believe that I get it. You could be a professor. So you're dealing with all like the, the everyday microaggressions, but then the institution itself is making you do extra work and not compensating you for that work and not rewarding you for that. Right. Cause when it comes time to tenure, they're like, okay, well he published eight articles and you published four articles. And so why like you can't get tenure. So when I think that was one of the moments, like when I heard that information, I was like, no, I can't do those. Yeah. And it was it was really jarring and it made me really afraid of the possibility to succeed as a black woman in academia. I now have surrounded myself with a lot of black women who are killing it in academia who are, you know, LAN. And so I, I don't feel that way as much anymore, but it is a lot harder for us. On top of the everyday racism and microaggressions that black women face period on top of that, the way that academia is kind of set up and this idea about privileging and prioritizing service and teaching, I mean prioritizing research and teaching over-service, but then overburdening black men with service commitments. Just, it just doesn't really make sense to me.

Daphné Vanessa (34:08): Yeah, no, that's that those are real challenges and it seems like unfortunately, a theme across industries where black and brown women and non-binary are facing a different set of hurdles than we'll call it the rest. I don't know what to call everybody else, but the rest. So yeah, thank you for sharing that experience because it's, it helps somebody who's going through it. Right. Validate what they're going through. So thank you for sharing

Shamil Rodriguez (34:38): That. I think that's really important to touch on there because I want to dive a little deeper on the idea that there's this expectation that you have to give back, right. To your community in a way that, that you don't get credit for. So do you think that, do you think that there should just be that that should be added to, in terms of like you becoming a tenured professor or like how would you, how would you try to correct it let's say you had the magic wand, right? How would you fix

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (35:04): That issue? You know? Yeah. Great question. So I think, I believe, believe in paying people what they are do. Like I don't like to owe anybody money if you do work for me. And so I, I think that one, I think it's kind of two-fold I think that one, all faculty should be expected to do things like serve on diversity committees and mentor black and brown students. Like that's not the sole responsibility of black faculty. It's not the sole responsibility of black female faculty. So that work needs to be distributed to all faculty members. And if you can distribute it to all faculty members, that means that you haven't hired faculty who can talk to these issues, which you can do. Haven't done the right job as an institution or a program to have a set of faculty who can actually advise you on issues of diversity and inclusion and equity that's number one.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (35:56): But then secondly, since we're nowhere near getting there, that's like in a dream world, but if you are going to now overburden and black and brown women with these service expectations, then I think what we need to weight them differently in the tenure review process. So I think this idea that publication even teaching, like I would say the heart, I would say the hierarchy of like tenure prints iteration is really publication and then teaching and then service. And so if we change how we weighted or weight them equally, so that, you know, someone who was bringing in a million dollar research grant to the school, like, yes, that is also good. And like, yes, they should be rewarded for that. But the person who is single-handedly mentoring black and brown graduate students so that they don't drop out of the pipeline is also doing work. That's more than likely to be valued like over the life course at more than a million dollars. So like, let's treat that with the same respect and admiration that we do with people who are bringing in financial grants, people who are publishing 50,000 articles because they just like publish the same thing, but they [inaudible]

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (37:11): Complete looking at how it affects yeah. Were looking at the blueberries instead of a black anyway. So yes we can, you know, if we can kind of just place value, like assigned real value in rec, not even assign recognize the value of mentorship and service that a lot of female faculty in black female faculty perform and put the same respect on it as we do on publications and in grants because they are it's equally, if not more important, I feel like we forget that faculty at the core are educators. So it's our responsibility. I think this is a thread when we talked about how I pivot pivot, but I think the common thread in everything that I do is I really believe in educating and empowering others. And so even my approach to academic work, like if I'm not teaching I don't think I would ever do it a faculty position that doesn't have any teaching. Like if I'm not teaching, what am I doing? The goal is to create and cultivate the next generation of scholars. And if we're not doing that, if we don't respect the people and reward people who do that well, but I really think that institutions are failing. Hmm.

Shamil Rodriguez (38:19): I really love that answer. I think it was really well said. What about the, let's talk about the growth of the program. Cause I love the idea of creating tribes that are supporting people, right? Like it's just not, it's something definitely knows. And we all talk about it so much. And this is a big part of why we started this company in this podcast in the first place is to share information for people to meet people like you and say, oh, this is attainable. Oh my gosh, I didn't know this. I didn't know. I could know who she, I didn't know. I could go to these Ivy schools. I didn't know anything, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So can you talk about the growth of your organization because it was only recently that you formalized it and I just want to make sure that we put some respect on the organization and how has this girl,

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (39:00): I appreciate you. So yeah, this is cohorts. If this is just a year old, it was launched on July 16th, 2020 which was significant because it was a year exactly one year after the day that I became Dr. Kola. So we are now a little bit over a year old. And in that year, our membership, it's a free membership to our community. And our membership is now I think 1700 black women from all around the world. And about 45, 6 countries are represented wow. People from all different academic disciplines, people who are pursuing PhDs, EDD societies DrPH is like any research, pace, doctoral degree in all fields. We got sociologists, we have bio chemists kind of like all the gamut. So I'm really, really proud of how we have grown and progressed over the past year and really excited to continue to scale.

Daphné Vanessa (39:58): Nice. And so share with the audience, the exciting launch coming

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (40:03): Up. Yes. So we just launched. So we just opened registration for our sister circle mentorship program, which is our flagship program where we pair three to four black women with one mentor and they meet once a month. And the goal is to kind of recreate the cohort experience a lot. So when we say cohort, that is the term that a lot of universities use for the group of people who all start the program at the same time, like when I started my PhD, there were four of us who were all first years and like we were called that cohort. So that's where the, the name cohort systems comes from. And so we kind of create mini cohorts. Should we call called sister circles, which is just a family. Like it's a family of women who are interested in the same research ideas you're interested in and you guys can bounce ideas off of one another.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (40:48): We can re help read each other's work. We can help each other with your applications. And then you're kind of led and overseen by a mentor who has been exactly where you were. You know, they were once applying, they, the ones trying to apply for fellowships, they were ones pursuing their doctoral degree. And so they are advising you, but you're also advising like all of each other. And so it was really important for us to have it not only be a vertical mentorship program, but a horizontal mentorship and peer mentorship as well. So it runs from the activity academic school year, as I said, groups meet monthly, but we also have additional workshops and trainings and resources to support people's academic professional and socio-emotional wellbeing. I mean, that's a personal passion of mine, which I will now, because I think it's relevant to our audience is that I am really passionate about financial wellbeing, both for graduate students, but for like everybody, like everybody be in their bag because there's so much money out here and people will just be having money for no reason you came to the right place.

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (41:53): Yes, yes. Yes. So it's so important to me to kind of, it's really built into the curriculum to talk about financial wellness in graduate school. So what does it mean when your school gives you $25,000 in a major city to exist for the entire school year and you are supposed to like fly to places to conduct your research? Like what, how does that look? How do you balance, how do you make it work? As we talk about things like that, we talk about how to get additional funding. We talk about how to negotiate your financial aid packages. And so financial wellness and wellbeing is also a critical part of the sister circle mentorship program. So if you're interested in signing up for the program as a mentee, or if, if you are a black woman with a doctoral degree listening, and you want to sign up as a mentor, we're also registering mantras right now. You can feel free to go to cohorts. It says.com/mentorship. And you'll see all the information there. And it's cohort six says S I S T a S. So

Daphné Vanessa (42:52): This has been amazing. Where can the audience reach you to engage? I know where to find you because I've been following you for years, but for those that have not had the blessing of following you, where can they find you?

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (43:06): Oh, the blessing that is so kind. So I am all over the internet streets, like anywhere, drama, color, you'll find something, whether it's Instagram, YouTube, my website, Twitter, every once in a all tweet something. So you can find me at Ijeoma Kola and also you can find a cohort system. And also we're kind of cohorts. It says everywhere as well. So I'm sure y'all will share my, the spelling of my name in the episode. So y'all can find me there.

Daphné Vanessa (43:36): Awesome. Well with that, Shamil take it away.

Shamil Rodriguez (43:41): All right. So last question for you, Dr. Kola just wanted to give you the opportunity to share one message to an audience member that may be feeling a little bit down, or just not sure where they're going in life. If you want to kind of leave your parting words for some of our audience members, how would you help them right now?

Dr. Ijeoma Kola (43:59): Ooh, yes. Great question. Because I'm in the same boat. No, exactly. No way it's happening right now. But I really credit, I know I thank my parents earlier, but I have to thank them again, but for different reasons. So my name Ujamaa means go well, the EGA and Evo in the Nigerian language of evil means to go, and then it's like, well or good. So it literally means to go well, but colloquially it's translated as safe journey being named safe journey. I'm constantly reminded of the fact that like, there's no, there's no like one clear path. And you've just got to say that like, you're always on a journey. It's either, if you don't know what's happening right now, it's okay because the destination doesn't matter, the journey matters. So what you're learning about yourself right now matters, even if those are bad things that you're learning about yourself, about the world, about other people, the relationships, the relationships that you have, all of those things, all of that learning and perhaps soaping up and growing that you're doing, that is what you're supposed to be doing right now. So it's okay. If you don't know where you're going, the journey is where the magic is. So that is the, a little encouragement I would leave you and leave myself because I'm about to start a new job in two weeks. And as I said, I don't know what's going on, but I'm on the journey, the journey and it's happening. And I'm just going to enjoy. Thank

Shamil Rodriguez (45:10): You so much. Thank you so much for sharing that. That was really good. Dr. Kola. Thank you so much for joining. Definitely.

Daphné Vanessa (45:15): Thank you everybody. For joining the student loan podcast, you can find more about this episode in the show notes. Thank you for joining us. We'll see you soon

Shamil Rodriguez (45:23): Or permission on today's podcast episode, please visit the suit a little podcast.com/episode 41. That's the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 41.

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