While discussing his journey with Project MALES, Dr. Jorge Burmicky (Ph.D. Educational Leadership and Policy, ’20) beams with pride when he thinks back to the friends and mentors—his Project MALES Familia—who supported him through his doctoral studies and encouraged him to keep raising the bar higher. Now, an Assistant Professor of Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University, Burmicky strives to pay it forward as a researcher and mentor.
How did Project MALES draw you to UT Austin?
Part of my decision to come to UT was the opportunity to work at Project MALES, particularly under the mentorship of Dr. Victor Sáenz. He was the first Latino professor I ever had, which didn’t happen until I became a Ph.D. student. When I learned about Project MALES, I wanted to be involved in their culturally relevant mentorship program and focus my research on creating equitable educational outcomes for boys and men of color. My work with Project MALES was very transformative and something I had been desiring to do for a very long time. At first, I was nervous about starting a doctoral program as a young father because it didn’t seem like the right time, but Project MALES felt like family, and everyone supported everyone. I felt like I belonged since day one. It was the perfect transition.
How did Project MALES improve your experience at UT Austin?
Being a doctoral student can be an isolating journey, but that wasn’t the case for me. I always had my Project MALES familia. When I was struggling with a class, I could go back to my people and get the support I needed. I knew I could do it because they’ve all done it before. And, as a Ph.D. student, I was able to set an example for master’s students in the mentoring program. I could show them they could succeed and that this was a hub of safety.
In Project MALES, you served as research coordinator and assistant director of research. How did this work position you for success in your career?
It was great to put research into action and to have the platform to carry out this work. I was able to own being a scholar-practitioner—a role that allowed me to create research that gets into the hands of practitioners and policymakers. Project MALES is doing incredible things, and as I reflect on this, I realize that I approach my work and my mentorship with students the same way that I was taught in Project MALES. People tell me that it seems like I’ve been doing this work for years, and I tell them that I have been. By the time I landed my assistant professor job, I knew exactly what I was doing because I was empowered to do this all before.
What, in your opinion, sets Project MALES apart from other programs that do similar work?
Project MALES gave me the tools and the exposure, which is unique. As a doctoral student, you typically get the tools, but you don’t get the opportunity to put them into practice. It’s rare to find a program like Project MALES that’s fully institutionalized and anchored by a large university. And it’s so much more than a research incubator; it also does a lot of work for the community, organizations, community colleges across Texas and so much more. Their impact really shows at the Texas Male Student Leadership Summit when hundreds of students, faculty and staff come together at UT every August. They all come here because they see UT as a central hub for advancing education for boys and men of color.
Do you have any favorite Project MALES memories?
There were so many happy hours, dinners and moments that I will always cherish. One of my favorite memories was getting to work with middle school students who were staying on campus for the summer leadership academy. Most of them had never set foot on the UT campus, a place that can feel so out of reach. I made it a point to tell them, “This is your campus, and UT is a public institution for a reason.” Even though I was very involved in research, I loved it when they would invite me to take part in these meaningful programs.
How did your Project MALES Co-Founder and Executive Director Victor Sáenz help you see potential within yourself?
When I came to UT, I didn’t intend to pursue academia. I wanted to do full-time administrative work with the long-term goal of becoming a VP for student affairs. Yet when I saw the work that Victor was doing with Project MALES—and the opportunities he created for so many people—I wanted to become a professor. I realized I was underestimating how much a faculty member could accomplish by putting ideas into action. I still remember the time when Victor told me, ‘You do know that you’re cut out for this, right?’ Until then, I didn’t believe it because nobody told me so. I needed to hear it from someone to believe it, and I believed him because I’ve seen what he’s done. Now, I love what I do—and I’m just getting started. That’s the thing about UT; everything is possible after you get your degree.