WSU McNair PhD 

Ciera Graham, PhD

Dean of Student Success, Pierce College
Ph.D. Sociology, University of Cincinnati
M.Ed., Counseling, Washington State University
B.A., Sociology, Washington State University

Dr. Ciera Graham(she/her/hers) is an experienced higher education professional who has built an impressive career on building and sustaining culturally relevant programs and infrastructure for underserved students to thrive. In her 13 years of experience, Ciera has provided direct level student support and mentorship, engaged with K-12 and community partners, and built collaborative relationships across instruction and student services to advance student success. Dr. Graham received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in counseling at Washington State University, and a PhD in sociology at the University of Cincinnati. She was a participant in the Washington State University TRiO Student Support Services and the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program. Dr. Graham is a Seattle native and credits her hard work and resolve to her working-class parents. “My parents worked incredibly hard to provide me with opportunities they never had,” she said, “which is why I am also steadfast in my determination to create a better life for undeserved students.”  

As a WSU McNair Scholar, Ciera was able to build a supportive community of peers and faculty who shared her lived experiences and identities as a woman of color, and first-generation college student. The summer research experience gave her the competitive edge in the graduate admissions process, and it also gave her confidence to contribute to advancing research and conversations on the racial and social inequities impacting students of color at predominately white campuses. In a society that continues to invalidate studies on populations of color as not “real” or “rigorous research,” Dr. Graham wanted to help change this narrative and inspire other graduate students of color to not be afraid to ask critical research questions about problems impacting their communities.  

Dr. Graham acknowledges that many first-generation college students, and students of color have to navigate an educational system that was not built for them. Attending college can be lonely. “The McNair program provided me opportunities to build and expand my personal and professional network,” she said, “as well as having open and candid conversations about my fears and anxieties about pursuing a graduate degree. I received mentorship on topics ranging from applying to graduate school, how to find a faculty mentor, and how to find adequate sources of funding—these topics were crucial in giving me the resources to successfully navigate the rigors of a graduate education. The McNair program also helped dispel the myth that everyone who receives a PhD must be a teacher; As someone who enjoyed being a practitioner of education, McNair opened my eyes to a career in higher education administration.”  

This is the advice Dr. Graham has to share: I would tell students preparing for graduate school to find a program that is competitive but also supportive. Research the program’s ranking, and the career placement of graduates. This will play a huge role in your experience as a student as well as your success after graduation. A supportive program is also critical. It’s important to find programs where there is a culture of viewing students as colleagues in training. Finding faculty and other staff who can support you through your studies and personal life challenges is also critical. Additionally, also consider applying to schools that have a graduate school club or organization where students across multiple departments can meet each other and build community.  Most people spend 5-6 years in graduate school—it’s important you are meticulous in your research and deliberate in your choice.