Dr. Kyler Sherman-Wilkins came to Missouri State University with a key focus: To be a great teacher and find ways to create a more inclusive campus community.
He’s hit those marks, and national organizations are noticing his success.
The Institute for Citizens & Scholars named the assistant professor of sociology as one of 11 Mellon Emerging Faculty Leaders (MEFL) for 2021. Sherman-Wilkins’ highlighted work, “Social Determinants of Cognitive Functioning Among Diverse Older Adults in the United States,” illustrates his research focus on aging.
“Research consistently shows that Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) live shorter and sicker lives than their white counterparts,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “My central goal as a researcher is to find out why.
“I think what I do is really important, but sometimes, convincing other people is something else. I’m honored, humbled and looking forward to meeting the other recipients.”
The Institute for Citizens & Scholars is a non-profit foundation that prepares leaders and engages networks of people and organizations to meet urgent education challenges.
The MEFL award recognizes junior faculty whose research focuses on contemporary American history, politics, culture and society. The awardees are also committed to creating an inclusive campus community for underrepresented students and scholars.
An award to pay forward
Sherman-Wilkins receives a $17,500 stipend that he can use to enhance his research and mission. Paying graduate students, purchasing technology and conducting surveys are among the items on his wish list.
Among the projects that funding will aid: Research into how students of color navigate predominantly white institutions (PWI).
“We’re looking at taking some theories and perspectives that we use for studying health disparities in older adults, and applying those to college students,” he said. “We want to explore outcomes like sleep, mental health and physical health to get a better sense of how being a student of color at a PWI affects your health.”
“I think every person in leadership should have equity and inclusion as a main goal, and make decisions through that lens,” he added. “I want to break down those silos, so equity and inclusion are incorporated in every office on campus.”
‘He’s so devoted to his students’
Dr. Victor Matthews, dean of MSU’s College of Humanities and Public Affairs, encouraged Sherman-Wilkins to apply for the MEFL award and wrote a recommendation letter for his faculty member.
Sherman-Wilkins’ dedication to his students stands out every day, Matthews said. Earlier this year, Sherman-Wilkins also received MSU’s Excellence in Advising Award and the Missouri State Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“He has an amazing ability to take on lots of projects at the same time and he’s so devoted to his students,” Matthews said. “I liked the fact that we could wed his interests, research and concern for students into an application for an award like this.”