January 08, 2024

My incredible experience as a Frederick Douglass Institute teaching scholar

Gabriella Locke, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Department of Psychology, Counseling, and Art Therapy
PennWest University

Gabriella Locke, Ph.DI’ve held many titles over the last decade—student, professional, counselor, therapist, you name it—but easily the title of mom has been the most impactful one in my life. It contributed to my desire to pursue a career in higher education, which ultimately led me back to PennWest University, where I am currently an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Counseling, and Art Therapy. It was a long journey, but it was worth it.
My journey in higher education began at California University of Pennsylvania, where I earned a B.S. in social work. I went on to earn an M.S. in rehabilitation counseling from West Virginia University. While I was in the final year of my Ph.D. studies in counselor education and supervision at Duquesne University, I was given the opportunity to come back to PASSHE as a Frederick Douglass Institute (FDI) teaching scholar. The program provides teaching and other professional experiences, mentoring, and potential employment opportunities within PASSHE universities that are strongly committed to cultural diversity.
Being a teaching scholar is demanding. There is tremendous responsibility that comes with being a person of color in higher education, where there have historically been broad and deep barriers to our success. I felt accountable to bring my best self to the work because I understood that the opportunity represented something larger than myself—the promise that limitations based on differences have no place in our contemporary society, and that when barriers are removed, we all can achieve our inherent potential. Put simply, scholars (and students) need to see that there are people who look like them in higher education.
Gabriella Locke, Ph.DThe FDI plays a critical role in fostering inclusion for minorities through transformative connections and community, providing pathways to meaningful careers in academia. As such, the institute is an absolutely vital program for minority teaching scholars. In addition, the FDI helps to foster inclusion for marginalized students by providing some of the same benefits—transformative connections, mentoring, and support—as well as providing resources that will help shape them into strong, positive individuals who are successful and passionate outside of the university setting.
I can’t emphasize enough how important the FDI is, not only to PASSHE, but also to the world around us. This is why it’s so crucial for the institute to have the support and resources necessary to provide services and programming.
Being a first-year professor can be overwhelming, but I had multiple layers of support, including the FDI committee and professors in my department. Being able to turn to so many knowledgeable individuals when I had questions or concerns was instrumental in easing my anxiety.
I was fortunate to transition to a tenure-track position upon the conclusion of my year as an FDI teaching scholar. I plan to resume researching my areas of interest in collaboration with my students.
As a woman of color, I am grateful that the FDI gave me the chance to be engaged with other professors and higher educational professionals who not only supported my journey as a novice educator, but also valued my insights and contributions.
I plan to pay it forward. One of my biggest goals is to dismantle systemic barriers that hinder individuals with minority backgrounds from pursuing graduate school in general, empowering and advocating for them to continue their journeys, and more specifically, to increase diversity in the field of counseling.

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