Ejana Bennett: Better education for marginalized students

Doctoral student finds mentorship, support in SOE’s Holmes Scholars Program

Headshot of Ejana Bennett, a VCU SOE Holmes Scholar.
Ejana Bennett, VCU School of Education doctoral student.

Ejana Bennett was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Teaching in Special Education and Elementary Education from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development. She is a first-year doctoral student in the VCU School of Education’s Ph.D. in Education with a Concentration in Curriculum, Culture and Change program.

What drew you to the field of education?

The inception of my profound interest in education began as a rising freshman in high school. During this life-changing experience, which was my first employment opportunity, I was a tutor with the Read Alliance. It was an eye-opening experience to work with an organization whose mission is to improve the educational trajectories of historically marginalized early elementary students through one-on-one tutoring in reading. From that day forward, I fell in love with working with children, and I developed a strong cherished desire for a career that focused on the improvement of education, particularly for historically marginalized students and communities.


VCU SOE presents a diverse population of students and faculty with a unique concentration in Curriculum, Culture and Change that is not replicated in other programs. VCU has a deep connection to the Central Virginia community through its partnerships and programs. As a former Richmond Public Schools teacher who has worked beside several Richmond teacher residents and mentored VCU practicum students, I have seen first-hand VCU’s commitments to improve urban schools. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium provides a distinctive opportunity to partner with the surrounding school districts to cultivate research in equity and social justice, multicultural education, community engagement and improving school climate.

Any tips for students who are considering study in your track at VCU SOE?

My greatest advice to all incoming students is to understand the importance of relationships. Relationships are key! In addition to getting to know the people in your program, get to know students in other programs. This may allow for additional collaborations and opportunities. Along with establishing VCU relationships, students entering the Curriculum, Culture and Change track should focus on building relationships with the schools in the area. This will grant you the ability to cultivate research with school leaders and teachers to potentially shift school culture and curriculum.

Why the Holmes Scholars Program? “I wanted to be surrounded by like-minded doctoral students and mentors who look like me and support me through my educational journey.

Secondly, get to know the community you live in. Attend local events, get involved in organizations (if you have time), and explore the scenic areas of the city.

What drew you to the Holmes Scholars Program?

My interest in the VCU Holmes Scholars program stemmed from a yearning to be mentored and supported as a Black Ph.D. student. To be frank, I wanted to be surrounded by like-minded doctoral students and mentors who look like me and support me through my educational journey.

What have you enjoyed most about the Holmes Scholars Program so far?

So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to fellowship with other Holmes scholars across the country. I am enthused by potential opportunities to collaborate and the ability to broaden my network with people who will be my future colleagues. Secondly, the opportunity to receive feedback on my work from well-acclaimed scholars in the field was an immeasurable experience. Holmes Scholars Program is a large family and I am so fortunate to have received this opportunity.