Ja’La Wourman, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures, was awarded the King-Chávez-Parks Future Faculty Fellowship award, which aims to increase the pool of academically underrepresented candidates pursuing faculty teaching careers in postsecondary education.
The $35,000 award, funded by the State of Michigan’s Michigan Talent Investment Agency and the Michigan State University Graduate School, is designed to financially assist doctoral students as they finish their degree. MSU supplements the award with a health care allowance, one credit of tuition and fees for the fall and spring semesters, and one credit of tuition and fees for a summer semester.
“This fellowship is an amazing opportunity. It definitely addresses the needs of making sure the university is a more equal and equitable place that doesn’t discriminate and gives equal opportunity,” Wourman said. “I’m excited to be in the cohort of this fellowship. It’s amazing to hold this position named after Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chávez.”
As a doctoral student, Wourman’s research focuses on social media branding and content strategies used by Black women entrepreneurs.
“I was really curious about the Black woman experience because, as a minority business owner, your experience is going to be very different than others,” Wourman said. “With the rise of social media being a highly valuable tool in your mode of communication as a business owner, I was curious about how these women are using social media platforms to not only reach their audience but how their identity plays a role in how they use those platforms.”
Wourman draws on her own experience as the founder of Royal Gems for Christ (RG4C), an inspiration lifestyle brand for women. RG4C reaches hundreds of young women through its online platform, which provides a place for young women to discuss lifestyle topics such as relationships, professionalism, wellness, and faith.
“Being able to interact with first-year students when they first get to the university is such an honor. First-year students are the most impressionable, and professors have the largest impact on how they view education and how their college experience will be.”
Wourman also teaches first-year writing courses at MSU, which allows her to invest in her passion for mentoring and teaching college students.
“Being able to interact with first-year students when they first get to the university is such an honor,” Wourman said. “First-year students are the most impressionable, and professors have the largest impact on how they view education and how their college experience will be. For me, being able to work with so many freshmen students and to be a part of their journey at the university is my favorite part of MSU. The conversations I get to have and being able to build community in a classroom has been so much fun.”
Mentoring and teaching have always been passions for Wourman. As an undergraduate student pursing a Language, Literature, and Writing degree at Eastern Michigan, she was part of several faith-based groups that centered around mentoring and leadership.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, she attained a ministry degree at World Harvest Church in Ohio, where she congruently began a communications position within the church.
“Writing for the church was my first real introduction into the professional writing field, which led me to pursue my masters,” Wourman said. “That position was the first time I was writing for different purposes and organizations.”
“One of my goals always has been, no matter what career path I go down, I want to always try to achieve the highest level of expertise and knowledge in that career path.”
Wourman received a master’s degree in Written Communication from Eastern Michigan and ultimately decided to pursue a Ph.D. at MSU.
“One of my goals always has been, no matter what career path I go down, I want to always try to achieve the highest level of expertise and knowledge in that career path,” she said. “So, I’ve had that mindset my entire life. Growing up in my family, they always focused on education and professionalism and success. My parents really instilled those values in me.”
As she wraps up her last year at MSU, Wourman looks forward to the availability the fellowship will allow her to focus on her research and reflect on her time at MSU.
“Being able to learn from people [at MSU] who have such vastly different interests and getting to learn how people are using their interests has been amazing,” she said. “For me, coming to a research institution was already an eye-opening experience. One of my favorite parts has been just learning from people who are doing such amazing work and to say that I’m a part of this community, because I never would’ve thought I would be a part of a research-academic community.”
“At MSU, I’ve been able to learn from some of the best minds who have shown me that I don’t have to let go of any of my passions.”
After completing her Ph.D. in spring 2021, Wourman looks forward to building upon her passions for teaching, writing, and ministry.
“At MSU, I’ve been able to learn from some of the best minds who have shown me that I don’t have to let go of any of my passions,” Wourman said. “If I continue teaching for the rest of my life at a university or if I don’t, there’s always ways to bridge the gap. That is what makes your research and scholarship more impactful, because you are on the ground doing the work in the community, and on top of it all, you get to write about it.”
Written by Annie Dubois