College of Education
M.Ed. – 1999
Ph.D. – 2011
As a student, Audra Gray-Dowdy formed an informal network of peers of color to help her navigate graduate school. GO-MAP* helped to formalize these networks and expand their reach beyond her department.
Through conversations in the GO-MAP office and GO-MAP social events, Gray-Dowdy made connections that showed her “people who look like me do this and finish this process, and I can, too.”
“We really got to know each other well through GO-MAP,” she adds. “There were a lot of real, authentic friendships that came out of GO-MAP and grew from there.”
For Gray-Dowdy, it was significant that the Graduate School encourages students to build community. When she was a student, and now as an alumni, “I can walk into the Grad School and it’s not like I’m walking into a business office that’s inaccessible to me,” she says. “GO-MAP made the Graduate School feel like home, made me feel like I belonged. Sure it’s a business office but it’s a place where people are welcoming and personable – what other universities have that?”
After Gray-Dowdy graduated with her master’s, she taught fifth grade in the Compton Unified District in California for several years. When she returned to UW for her Ph.D., she reconnected with the GO-MAP family.
Inspired by the networks of support they received from GO-MAP, Gray-Dowdy and several women of color in Education established a thesis and dissertation writing group. The members met regularly to talk about their research. They helped to hold each other accountable, while also receiving feedback on their research.
As a Ph.D. student, Gray-Dowdy approached Cynthia Morales (then assistant director) when she was seeking funding or new opportunities. “Just to have her accept me, hear me out, and tell me she would keep her eyes and ears open – it was very comforting to know that,” Gray-Dowdy says. If I hadn’t known her as a grad student, I would have been struggling,” she adds.
At one point, Gray-Dowdy approached Cynthia because her graduate appointment did not run through the summer and she was seeking work. She earned an appointment to work for GO-MAP during the summer, providing her funding for the summer months.
As a Graduate Staff Assistant in the summer of ‘00, Gray-Dowdy played an important role in organizing the first Getting Connected – an annual fall event to help graduate students of color meet. She worked alongside Johnella Butler (then director) and Morales to help with the planning for the event. She created brochures and helped put together the event, including choosing the location and ordering the food,
“I feel a sense of honor when Cynthia says I was part of helping to create Getting Connected, even though its an overstatement,” Gray-Dowdy says.
Gray-Dowdy contributed to the GO-MAP community in other ways, as well – by mentoring new students of color through the Diversity Ambassadors program.
“I wanted to give all the wisdom I had earned back to people,” she says, adding that “any time GO-MAP asked myself or my peers to contribute, the answer was always yes because we knew connecting students of color to GO-MAP would be a lifesaver for (those students). We didn’t need to be convinced, because we already felt the love from GO-MAP.”
It’s true, though, that GO-MAP wasn’t just about spreading love. “The goal was for us students of color to get our degrees in a way that still feeds our souls,” Gray-Dowdy says. “This might look like working in communities that are unnoticed, communities we represent, and doing work we feel passionate about. As a student, you feel really feel that GO-MAP is investing in you because they know you’re going to take your degrees and make an impact in your field, and make an impact in your community.”
After walking with her Ph.D. in 2011, Gray-Dowdy joined the faculty at East Tennessee State University. She is now the Dean of Students at Federal Way Public Schools.
*This story is part of a series celebrating the 50th anniversary of GO-MAP, now known as GSEE. Learn more.