Chancellor Doctoral Fellow Alyssa Cole dives into research at KU to explore military service and citizenship

Alyssa Cole, Ph.D. History, 3rd year

Program of study and year: 3rd year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History

Hometown:  Garden City, KS

What are your research interests and why did you choose them? 

For the past few years, I have studied both African American and US Military history. I have been researching the roles of African American men and women in the military during the twentieth century.  I am particularly interested in how many African Americans connected military service and service to their country during periods of war with full citizenship rights.

I have always been interested in history, and after taking history courses as an undergraduate here at KU, I decided that these interests were something I wanted to continue to learn about.  I was a McNair Scholar at KU and also worked with the Center for Undergraduate Research, both of which gave me the opportunity to conduct more detailed research on the topics I loved.  Both of those programs helped me realize that studying these topics was what I wanted to do during my graduate career.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about your research project or research interests? 

“The field of history is so eye-opening to me, partly because there are so many things that were either never taught, deemed unimportant, or purposely kept from society.”

So my answer doesn’t solely apply to African American history, but I would want people to know that there are so many things that many people are unaware of, and it is mind-boggling when you do the research, mainly because these past events have informed the way we live our lives today.

Where are you conducting your research? In archives? Interviews? What are your sources?

Currently, I am using both online sources through the KU libraries as well as conducting research at the Spencer Research Library.  Some of my sources include NAACP documents and files, newspaper articles, magazines, including the Crisis, and student newspapers.

What advice would you give students applying for research funding opportunities?

“If you have the opportunity to write a personal statement, it is crucial for you to explain how much your research matters to you.” We are often asked why our research should matter to other people, and while that is important, I think it is equally if not more important to show how passionate you are about your research and how committed you are to producing great work.

Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?

So many people have helped me at KU that it is impossible to name just one person, so I am going to name as many as I can get away with. Lisa Brown, Mulu Lemma, Dr. Lang, Dr. Alexander, Dr. Lewis, Nikki Perry, Nancy Espinosa, and Laurie Ramirez.  Each of these people has played an integral role in my success at KU, and I would absolutely not have been able to continue with my graduate career without their assistance.

What extracurricular programs or groups have you been a part of KU that are foundational to your experience here? 

If McNair counts as extracurricular then the McNair Scholars Program, other than that, I haven’t really been able to do much in the way of extracurricular activities, unfortunately.

What has your experience as a Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellow like?

What I like about being a Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellow is the ability to focus on research. Research is my favorite part of graduate school by far, so I appreciate that the fellowship gives us the opportunity to make our research our sole focus during the first and fifth years of study.

What is the most valuable experience you have had while studying at KU?

Meeting all of the fantastic scholars the African and African-American Studies Department, the Langston Hughes Center, the Hall Center and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences bring in for lectures and brown bag lunches.

“I have been exposed to a wide variety of amazing intellectuals who I otherwise never would have had the opportunity to engage with.”

What do you plan to do after you graduate from KU?

I would like to move to a much bigger city outside of Kansas. I am currently eyeing Washington DC, and would ideally like to work at a historic site or museum. Alternatively, should that not work out, I’d like to have/live on a farm on the outskirts of a big city.

What motivates you?

I love to learn and going to graduate school was a way for me to continue learning as much as I can about topics I care about.  The ability to take care of my family motivates me as well.  I am a first-generation college student and knowing that I am the first in my family to go to graduate school is motivating, as well as knowing that I will have the ability to help my children through the process should they choose to go to graduate school.

Be like Alyssa, and follow your interests. For more information, check out the Department of History, the McNair Scholars Program, the Department of African and African-American Studies, the Hall Center for the Humanities, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.