For PhD students belonging to groups that are underrepresented in their chosen fields of study, navigating graduate school can pose unique challenges. Since its inception in 2008, the Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education Doctoral (EDGE) Fellowship Program has supported more than 200 Stanford doctoral students as they complete their degrees.

EDGE is a two-year fellowship offered to admitted doctoral students who contribute to the diversity of their field or degree program. It aims to support advanced scholars by providing funding, mentorship, professional development and community during their time on campus.

Admitted students are nominated for the fellowship program by the participating schools of Engineering; Humanities and Sciences; Earth, Energy and Environmental sciences; Business; and Education. The fellowship is modeled after a highly successful program of the National Science Foundation and is supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

“EDGE is an important fellowship that demonstrates Stanford’s commitment to enhancing diversity across fields and disciplines,” said Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs. “It’s also a great opportunity for scholars to make connections and receive the support that will help them thrive in graduate school.”

As prospective doctoral students consider Stanford and EDGE, current fellows share how the program is helping them acclimate to graduate school, pursue their academic and professional goals and find community at Stanford.

(Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Amnahir Peña-Alcántara

Materials Science & Engineering

“Grad school can be isolating, so it’s important to have a community of scholars that can support you in your journey. I don’t think I would have met as many people outside of my department had I not joined EDGE.

“Most of my days are spent in my lab. Thus, socializing and forming new relationships outside of my lab peers would have been very difficult if not for the EDGE programming. The countless themed events with specific goals have been fantastic. For example, there are end-of-quarter meetups and some great educational events that cover issues like selecting an adviser or finding a research topic. Those are fun because they happen over lunch, so they’re very social.

“The networking opportunities within Stanford, nationally and internationally, have exceeded my expectations. Being able to participate in conferences and internships where I can connect with a broader community of scholars in my field is an unparalleled benefit. Utilizing EDGE funds, I traveled to Germany last summer for a three-month internship, which allowed me to network with other materials scientists and researchers there.

“Navigating a career isn’t always easy, particularly if you’re a woman, a minority or underrepresented in some other category. Having people that you can turn to for advice on issues related to school, housing, research, career-planning or life in general makes the experience much easier. The EDGE program’s focus on diversity is important because it helps us feel seen and heard. The program has not only provided us with a seat at the table but a voice too, which, in turn, promotes idea production.”

(Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Koji Lau-Ozawa


“Neither of my parents graduated from university, and I was the first in my family to go to graduate school, so I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of how to navigate the grad school terrain. Fortunately, I received a lot of structure and guidance through the EDGE program.

“The funding is integral to the program because it helps with the very real material aspects of graduate school. For example, I’ve used the funding to attend several conferences, which has helped me create an academic network – an essential part of building a career in academia. I wouldn’t have been able to attend these events without that support.

“I was able to complete much of my dissertation proposal research because of financial support from EDGE. I study Japanese incarceration camps from World War II, and my research focuses on the Gila River Camp in Arizona, which is where my grandparents were incarcerated during the war. In 2017, I used EDGE funds to travel to Arizona for two weeks to conduct on-the-ground research at the camp. That research formed the basis of my grant and dissertation proposals.

“I’ve been able to establish where I am in my career with help from this fellowship, particularly the funding. And I really appreciate that the program recognizes that there can be real material constraints and barriers for students, especially students of color or first-generation students in graduate school.”

(Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Mahlet Shiferaw


“The mentorship aspect of the EDGE fellowship is really great. My mentor, Bryen [Irving], and I receive credits from the program to go out to lunch. Since I’m a first-year doctoral student, our discussions have mostly focused on what classes I should take and which research group I should join. He’s already faced the things that I’m going through, so if I have an issue with selecting courses or career planning or work-life balance, then I can seek out his advice. He was also in my lab rotation group last quarter, which was helpful because I could ask him questions about working in that lab that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to ask someone else.

“I have other mentors, but the EDGE mentorship is unique for me because Bryen is the only formal Black mentor that I have; I’ve never had that in physics before. To see yourself in a mentor is very, very helpful because you’ll likely come across issues that only that person will understand. I imagine other students who are underrepresented in other ways probably feel the same way.

“Connecting with other students, including a mentor, is one of the biggest benefits of this fellowship. The only way I’ve made friends outside of physics is through EDGE, which is really neat because grad school can be a lonely experience.”

(Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Bryen Irving


“Connecting with a mentor is a valuable part of EDGE. I had a mentor when I first arrived at Stanford, and now I mentor a first-year doctoral student, Mahlet [Shiferaw], who is also studying physics. We talk about everything from research to selecting courses to finding good food on campus. I do whatever I can to pass on the wisdom and experience that I’ve gained over the last few years.

“Having a mentor in graduate school can be particularly helpful for minority students, many of whom can count on one hand the number of people in their department who look like them. So, it helps to see people that look like you, doing the things that you want to do.

“Also, in graduate school, it’s easy to feel like you’re out on a boat all by yourself. Being around people that understand what you’re going through from an academic or cultural standpoint can make it easier. As an EDGE fellow, there are many opportunities to meet people outside of my field. Those opportunities can go a long way in helping create a sense of belonging, so I don’t feel like I’m the only one having this experience.”