As the first in her family to attend college, Natasha McFarland knows how difficult it can be to navigate the waters of higher education. Her experience as a first-generation student gives her special insight into the challenges students face today.
“I think my experience – being raised by my grandparents, being the first in my family to attend college – makes me more relatable to students,” said McFarland. “I’m able to understand what they are going through because I’ve been there, and that helps me to support them.”
McFarland, a research and instruction librarian for William & Mary Libraries, has been named co-director of the William & Mary Scholars Undergraduate Research Experience (WMSURE), a program designed to support W&M students who have overcome adversity and/or are members of underrepresented groups. She will lead the program with Cheryl Dickter, associate professor of psychology, and Anne Charity Hudley, Class of 1952 associate professor of Africana Studies, education, English and linguistics.
“Our aim is to get students interested and involved in undergraduate research, and to give them the resources and tools they need to succeed,” said Charity Hudley. “An undergraduate research experience opens doors to other opportunities and makes students more competitive for graduate schools.”
Now in its sixth year, WMSURE provides undergraduate students at William & Mary with mentoring and research opportunities. The program features weekly workshops held at Swem Library that offer guidance on topics ranging from research methods to time management. The meetings also provide an opportunity for students to connect with faculty mentors and build relationships with their fellow students.
“The cohort is so important. A vital part of this program is helping students build their community and connect with others,” said Charity Hudley. “It’s exciting to see them here each week, working, studying and collaborating together in one place.”
As co-director, McFarland will act as a liaison between WMSURE and the university libraries, and support students in their academic endeavors.
“I see myself as a ‘personal librarian’ for WMSURE students. I’m available to help them with research throughout their time here at William & Mary,” said McFarland. “In our meetings, the students not only talk about their research, but also their own challenges as students at a predominately white university. I am grateful that I can be a resource to them – to be a listening ear, an encouraging presence – and to share my own experiences as a woman of color.”
McFarland, who has worked at the university for 34 years, first became involved in WMSURE two years ago when she led a library instruction workshop. Finding herself drawn to the program, she began attending the weekly meetings. When Charity Hudley asked her to co-direct WMSURE, she accepted the role enthusiastically.
“I saw this as an opportunity to give back to the university beyond my regular duties as a research librarian,” said McFarland. “It’s truly a wonderful partnership. The library’s mission of supporting research and learning goes hand in hand with WMSURE’s mission of supporting student success.”