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Brand New Badger: Incoming doctoral student knows university experience from the inside

September 5, 2018 By Doug Erickson

Paris Wicker, pictured in the atrium of the School of Education, is a Ph.D. fellow at UW–Madison in a new program for doctoral students across three departments: sociology, education policy studies, and educational leadership and policy analysis. Photo by Doug Erickson

For years, Paris Wicker’s job was to help students succeed at college. Now she’s taking her own advice.

Wicker, an incoming doctoral student at UW–Madison, worked the last decade in admissions and student affairs at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. When she left Lawrence in August, she was serving as associate dean of students for student transition, support and persistence.

“Now I’m the one in transition,” says Wicker, a Chicago native. “I need to keep reminding myself of all those things I told students time after time.”

At UW–Madison, Wicker will be a Ph.D. fellow in a new program for doctoral students across three departments: sociology, education policy studies, and educational leadership and policy analysis. The program is for students interested in drawing from sociological perspectives to research and teach about issues of race and inequality in education.

In her work experience, Wicker says she saw many students struggle with mental health concerns. She plans to research trauma and mental health-informed practices within higher education, especially in regards to retaining students of color.

“It can’t just be, ‘Go to counseling,’” she says. “We also have to look more broadly at how our institutional structures might be contributing to that trauma.”

Wicker earned a bachelor’s degree in music and French from Lawrence University. Then, while working full time at Lawrence, she earned a master’s degree in professional counseling from UW­–Oshkosh.

She’s glad to be able to focus on her doctoral studies without the obligations of a job, though other responsibilities will beckon from time to time. She and her husband, Roger, have a newborn daughter, Margaux, five months old.

“It’s a little scary, because I’m starting a Ph.D. program in my 30s instead of my 20s, and I’m doing it being married with a child,” Wicker says. “These are things that I believe are assets, but they also, from what I’ve seen, can put students at a higher risk of not completing a degree, because life sometimes gets in the way.”

She will rely on advice she gave students.

“To be successful, you must be intentional about your support system,” she says. “I would ask students, ‘Who are your people?’ Because every student needs people. It doesn’t need to be a lot. It can be one or two trusted faculty members and a handful of students. So I myself am trying to move beyond my own anxiety to make connections outside of my family.”

Being willing to ask for and accept help is another important skill to cultivate, Wicker says.

“No one succeeds alone, even if it sometimes appears that way,” she says. “Everyone needs help at some point, and that’s OK.”

She’ll also allow herself to fail.

“In academia, it’s easy to try to go for perfection,” she says. “But you will fail, and that’s something I have to remind myself of. Failure is a part of growth. Even in the midst of not quite being the person you want to be, you still have value, you still have things to contribute to your community.”

Her doctoral program could take four or five years, Wicker says. She looks forward to walking across the commencement stage with Margaux in the audience.

“Education is something that is fully and wholly yours; no one can take it away from you,” she says. “I think it’s important to show my daughter that this is possible.”

3 questions with Paris Wicker

Why I chose UW–Madison: It has such a strong research component, and the School of Education is always among the highest ranked in the country.

What I’m most looking forward to this year: Getting involved in the music scene, both as a participant and as an audience member. (She sings and plays the viola.)

Something on my Bucky list: I’ve heard sunsets at Memorial Union are breathtaking, and I haven’t experienced one yet.

“Brand New Badger” is a series of profiles spotlighting notable new students on campus this fall.