Royel M. Johnson, the USC Race and Equity Center’s Director of Student Engagement, is on a team that has been awarded a $1,533,384 grant from the United States Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES). These funds will support the University of Southern California’s five-year partnership with North Carolina Central University (NCCU), one of our nation’s 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). 

The Research Institute for Scholars of Equity (RISE 2.0) will provide upper-level undergraduates with experiences in conducting mixed-methods education research. The program will also prepare participants for doctoral study. Originally funded by IES in 2016, RISE 2.0 will offer fellowships to nearly 60 students.

“I’m excited to partner with colleagues at North Carolina Central University to train the next generation of critically conscious researchers who are prepared to tackle our nation’s most pressing educational challenges,” says Johnson. “HBCUs like NCCU are national treasures and there is a lot we can learn from them about how to effectively serve racially and ethnically minoritized students. I’m glad that students who participate in RISE will have the opportunity to experience and benefit from NCCU’s rich, intellectual and cultural assets.”

This federally-funded project is one of many grants awarded to Johnson, an associate professor in the USC Rossier School of Education and the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Over his career, he has been awarded more than $5.1 million in grants from the Spencer Foundation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services, and several other entities to fund his research.

The interdisciplinary RISE training program focuses on persistent and pervasive inequities in education, especially for Black and Latinx students. One core feature of the fellowship is the annual eight-week summer research institute in which fellows will be introduced to mixed-methods research techniques as a means of studying issues such as teacher quality, education policy, racial equity, and social justice in education. During this institute, RISE Fellows will also study the sociocultural contexts of American schooling and learn how to formulate culturally responsive research questions. In addition to completing coursework, RISE Fellows will also conduct exploratory research projects under the supervision of their faculty mentors. With support from the USC Rossier School of Education, RISE fellows will have the opportunity to supplement their summer training with asynchronous courses on research methods and race and education. 

For participation in the training program, each RISE Fellow will receive a stipend, housing and a meal plan for the summer research institute, and an allowance to cover travel costs to and from the NCCU campus.

“In my role as Director of Student of Engagement for the USC Race and Equity Center, I want to leverage the considerable resources of the Center to provide additional opportunities for RISE Fellows to be engaged in professional learning and development and connect them to our wonderful community of scholars,” Johnson adds.

This new project with NCCU extends our center’s research on and partnerships with HBCUs. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, our executive director completed a national study in 2019 that focused on understanding and minimizing threats to sustainable student enrollments at HBCUs. Findings from that study provided insights into why fewer Black students and their families are choosing HBCUs, as well as how various stakeholder groups interpret enrollment shifts and their corresponding threats to HBCU sustainability. Additionally, NCCU was the HBCU participant in our center’s multiyear organizational change for Black male student success project that was funded by a $650,000 grant from Lumina Foundation. Later this month, our center is formally announcing the launch of a new national commission on HBCUs and racial equity.

“As one of three proud HBCU graduates who work full-time in the USC Race and Equity Center, I am particularly thrilled and grateful that Dr. Johnson has brought North Carolina Central University back to us as a partner,” notes Shaun Harper, our founder. “It truly excites me that RISE Fellows, talented undergraduate students, will go on to earn doctorates and conduct research that advances racial equity in education.”