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The United In True Equity Research Priority Area (UNITE RPA) welcomed this year’s cohort of 21 graduate students to the UNITE Predoctoral Research Enhancement Program.

UNITE is led by Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D., an associate vice president for research, diversity and inclusion and acting dean of the University of Kentucky College of Education. She created the predoctoral program in 2022, with support from the Office of the Vice President for Research, Office of Institutional Diversity and The Graduate School, to engage scholars who enhance equity and inclusion in Ph.D. programs at UK and support them as they become academic leaders in their field.

“The UNITE Predoctoral Research Enhancement Program is aligned with university priorities to create cultures of inclusive excellence while incorporating remarkably talented students into academia,” said Lisa Cassis, Ph.D., vice president for research. “This effort implements evidence-based strategies to develop research training for diverse scholars.”

The program will provide a stipend for students in addition to funding for their home college or department. Each fellow will also receive funding to support research-related expenses such as travel or equipment needs.

“This year’s cohort was selected among a group of highly impressive applicants,” said Stevens-Watkins. “I look forward to seeing them grow as research scholars through the support and mentorship they will receive. Our program is designed to ensure any social and cultural barriers they encounter will not prevent their success. Each member of this cohort is poised to pursue an impactful career in academia as the next generation of scholars who will use their unique lived experiences to make discoveries and mentor students in their fields.”

Lauren Whitehurst, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology in the UK College of Arts and Sciences, is the assistant director of the UNITE program and works closely with scholars as they pursue their research agendas.

“One new aspect of the predoctoral program that we have piloted this year is a professional development needs assessment,” Whitehurst said. “This assessment has allowed UNITE leadership to develop tailored professional development content, like grant and award writing workshops or networking opportunities, that are responsive to fellows’ current needs.”

2023 Cohort

  • Raphael Adesiyan, College of Education
  • Anne Amegbeha, College of Communication and Information
  • Daniel Benitez, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Kristen Buford, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Pasama Cole-Kweli, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Eric Ingram, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Jasmine Jester, College of Education
  • Monyae Kerney, College of Education
  • Olukemi Kolawole, College of Education
  • Regina Lewis, Martin School of Public Policy
  • Rujeko Machinga-Asaolu, College of Social Work
  • Jessica Maras, College of Arts and Sciences
  • James Murray, College of Education
  • Oluwatosin Obisesan, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Aiemere Oikeh, College of Public Health
  • Hilda Okeyo, College of Nursing
  • Odunayo Omotilewa, College of Education
  • Christopher Penn, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Miranda Ramirez, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Sarret Seng, College of Nursing
  • Jillian Silva-Jones, College of Arts and Sciences


Created in 2020, the overall goal of the UNITE Research Priority Area is to elevate impactful research on equity and increase diversity at the University of Kentucky by leveraging existing strengths and forging new relationships. As the population of people of color in the Commonwealth continues to grow, the UNITE RPA finds it critical to develop, engage and promote equity through research to impact change. UNITE also seeks to foster mutually beneficial relationships between the university, faculty researchers, and Black and Latinx, indigenous, and other communities of color. The UNITE RPA is committed to designing and supporting research-focused programs that engage historically underrepresented communities, students and faculty. Learn more about UNITE RPA.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.