Kharen Fulton Diversity Graduate Award

MaKendra Umstead, a Laney student in the Cancer Biology doctoral program, has been awarded the first Kharen Fulton Diversity Graduate Award.

Jamal Fulton, Lisa Tedesco, MaKendra Umstead, Kai Jackson Issa, Donna Akiba Harper, Damon Williams

From left: Jamal Fulton (Kharen Fulton's son), Lisa Tedesco (Dean), MaKendra Umstead (award recipient), Kai Jackson Issa (99G), Donna Akiba Harper (85G; 88G), Damon Williams (Director of Diversity, Community and Recruitment)

Named to honor the legacy of Dr. Kharen Fulton, the longtime director of recruitment, diversity and admissions at the Laney Graduate School, the award supports graduate student diversity, inclusion, and community. Umstead was presented the award at the annual Laney Graduate School Diversity Reception. A monetary prize accompanied the award.

For winner MaKendra Umstead, the award came as a complete surprise. “I found out that I received the Kharen Fulton Diversity Graduate Award on the same day that I passed my private dissertation defense! In complete honesty, I was more excited to be presented with such an honor as the Kharen Fulton Award than I was about defending. The reality is that while I spent the last five years toiling through graduate school to earn my degree, Kharen Fulton dedicated her entire career to ensuring that I would have that opportunity.”

Kharen Fulton

Kharen Fulton

Kharen Fulton’s service to Emory was distinguished and long, stretching more than 30 years. Says Laney's Dean Lisa Tedesco, “Kharen was a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion. She strived to make the Laney Graduate School — and Emory — a more welcoming, just, and supportive place for people from underrepresented groups, including both students and staff. We are proud to carry on the good work she so deeply believed in here in the Laney Graduate School.”

Umstead agrees. “When interacting with Kharen through many avenues such as student orientation, minority receptions, or the Black Graduate Student Association, she always embodied a joy, a confidence, and a motherly care that was both encouraging and inspiring for young minority students like me. In a world where progress in diversity seemingly takes two steps back whenever we take one step forward, rare individuals like Kharen deserve our utmost praise and respect.”

The award was established through the efforts of several Laney alumni whose lives Kharen touched. In their call for support for the award, alumni Kai Jackson Issa (99G) and Donna Akiba Harper (85G; 88G) noted Fulton’s place in their graduate careers and lives. “She understood the unique challenges that many faced as first-generation and underrepresented minority doctoral students entering academic and research fields where there were few people who looked like us. She believed that our voices and scholarship had important contributions to make in the world and reminded us of that often.”

For Umstead, honoring Fulton’s legacy is a call to action. “Through her life, she established a legacy that transcends institutions, generations, and disciplines. To me, receiving this award is not solely an accolade, but it is a charge to continue on in this very important work, committing to increasing access and breaking down barriers for underrepresented individuals throughout my career. Truly, I am honored.”