HEPS Doctoral Student Whitney Watkins Receives Order of Pegasus Award


Higher Education and Policy Studies doctoral student and UCF Holmes Scholar Whitney Watkins is our college’s Order of Pegasus Award recipient.

The Order of Pegasus is the most prestigious and significant award a student can attain at UCF. The honor recognizes a student’s exemplary performance in the areas of academic achievement, outstanding university involvement, leadership, and community service.

Prior to UCF, Watkins earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Leadership Studies from Florida State University and a Master of Science in Education from Indiana University.

Besides the Order of Pegasus, her accolades include the Excellence in Service to Students Award from the National Society of Leadership and Success and the UCF Advisor of the Year Award.

Watkins aspires to making higher education decisions and a positive impact on students’ lives after she receives her doctorate degree.

Why are you pursuing a Higher Education and Policy Studies doctorate degree at the College of Education and Human Performance?

When I worked at North Carolina Central University’s Housing and Residential Life program, I felt like I needed to pursue higher education because I wanted to have an influence on policy and have a seat at the table when decisions were being made. My experience with the students at the university really inspired and encouraged me to pursue it because I had such an influence on them.

What intrigued you about our college’s Higher Education and Policy Studies doctoral program?

One of the biggest things that I would say was the curriculum and the faculty. My heart was in leadership studies. I recalled a lot of the faculty had experience in some regard to that field or area of study. The curriculum also featured courses like diversity in higher education and policy studies. These are things that attracted me to the Ed.D. program because as much as research is important to me, I was happy that there were just as many specific and practical classes where I would be learning how to actually be doing things in the field.

Who inspires you and why?

I have always been inspired by my family. Especially, by my parents because they have been my biggest cheerleaders. There has always been an outpouring of support from them. I also have a very good group of friends who are in doctoral programs and inspire and support me. Faculty members inspire me, including Drs. Kathleen King, Rosa Cintron, and Carolyn Hopp. To have conversations with faculty who say they can see me making changes in higher education, is very inspiring to me and really makes me want to do more, go further, and reach higher.

What is your dissertation focus?

My research is focusing on the success of high-achieving black female college students. High achieving is defined by having at least a 3.0 GPA and having involvement with leadership-related organizations on campus. I’m conducting research at predominantly white institutions and focusing on their success because a lot of research about black students at predominantly white institutions is from a deficit point of view, focusing on why they don’t graduate, drop out, or succeed. I want to focus on the success of these students to ultimately assist students who are underachieving. By looking at the students who are doing well, we can pull from their experiences and assist others who aren’t doing as well.

Why did you decide to become a UCF Holmes Scholar?

Once I got into the doctoral program, I was invited to attend a UCF weekend event where students could interview for different assistantships and opportunities. A doctoral student approached me and said I should really consider the Holmes Scholar program. I was willing to take any advice by someone that would assist me with my journey. She told me the Holmes Scholar program was a doctoral program aimed at underrepresented populations. Dr. Hopp and I had an awesome exchange and I learned what the program was trying to do especially, on a national grand scale and how it supports doctoral students in such an intimate way. I was intrigued and excited about it. I knew trying to make it through my doctoral program was not going to be something that I could do by myself, so the opportunity to have a network of support was very attractive to me. I pursued it hard and Dr. Hopp supported me all of the way. I was also the Holmes Scholars president for two years.

How has the UCF Holmes Scholar program benefited you?

There are so many benefits! The support system and the mentorship has been amazing. In my role as president, I learned a lot about myself and my own leadership. That has been very encouraging to me. I feel that my presidential leadership will translate into other facets of my life. Leadership is also about building relationships, so that’s something that I have really had the opportunity to do and get my feet wet with a national organization that I will now and forever be a part of.

What was your reaction when you found out you were our college’s Order of Pegasus Student Award recipient?

I was nominated by Dr. Maribeth Ehasz, the Vice President of Student Development and Enrollment Services and was excited about receiving the award. I literally had a feeling of humility. I felt very humble about the fact that I was chosen as the recipient. When I found out that I was the only recipient from the College of Education and Human Performance, I was like, “Go education!” I was so excited and it gave me pride and joy, too.

What advice do you have for students pursuing a graduate degree?

There are two words that have really steered my journey and that’s persistence and opportunity. There’s no promise or contract written anywhere that says that this journey is supposed to be easy. If you want it bad enough, then you have to be willing to persist. Persistence in and of itself means that you must be resilient. You may encounter obstacles, speed bumps, and situations that weren’t in your plan. You must understand that your plan may change. You have to find out what’s going to motivate you or find the reasons for sticking around because during those times where you want to quit, you then have to remember why you started and use that as your fuel to persist.

I have found that opportunities will present themselves when you’re genuine with people and wanting to build relationships and connect with them. I have had so many opportunities that have come to me that I haven’t had to pursue. I follow my faith and tribute everything that happens to me to God. You should understand that opportunities can lead to very amazing things.

How is CEDHP making your educational dreams come true?

It’s the people. This trickles from the faculty, so all of the faculty that I have had along the way who have assisted me both inside and outside of the classroom and encouraging my abilities and really taking time to get to know me. I feel like the College of Education and Human Performance is very inclusive in their thinking and very caring in the approaches that they take to try to make spaces that are conducive for student learning. Having that support and the opportunity is really helping me to shape and pursue my dreams.