Born and raised in Philadelphia, Prentiss Dantzler is a public affairs doctoral candidate* who grew up in a low-income neighborhood, lived in a single-parent household, and is one of the only members of his family to graduate college. Determined to defy odds, to follow his passion, and to help others, he acquired his bachelor’s degree in energy, business, and finance at Pennsylvania State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from West Chester University. Currently, he is planning on graduating this summer after defending his dissertation. In October, he will be one of the first students to graduate with a Ph.D. in public affairs from Rutgers–Camden.
Prentiss did not plan on pursuing his Ph.D. immediately after obtaining his master’s degree. He had thought of working for a few years in a related field before settling into a doctoral program, but had applied to Rutgers–Camden regardless. “I didn’t expect to get in, but I took a chance…and I wanted to make good use of it.”
Prentiss says that his undergraduate degree at Penn State gave him a solid understanding of organizational management, corporate finance, and economics with a concentration on the energy industry. These skills then translated into preparing him for his MPA with certificates in Geographic Informational Systems and urban and regional planning. Rutgers–Camden provided Prentiss with “a local context in which community development could be practiced.” He says that he is always incorporating his “invaluable” skills from his previous programs into his current work.
“I was supposed to be the statistic that did not get this far,” he says. “It hasn’t been easy, but everything has worked out.” Prentiss says he admired the merging of seemingly unrelated interdisciplinary fields in order to further explore the various angles of community development. Prentiss’ dissertation explores the mobility of people and public housing. “My dissertation seeks to look at whether individuals or their environment affect where they live and how long they live there.” Prentiss has collected twenty-five years’ worth of research focused on poor areas. He strives to conclude what makes people live in poor locations, such as education or class, or structural means, like the amount of home owners or jobs in that area.
Prentiss explains that he favored Rutgers–Camden’s program due to its interdisciplinary application. “It connected all my interests,” he says. With so many people able to bring different perspectives to the research, “you find your niche,” he adds. The doctorate program helped him hone in on his passions due to the setup of the program. “It is not as sequential as one might think. You don’t just take classes and get a degree. You have to immerse yourself in research.” This immersion helped him discover what he truly is passionate about, and it also fostered a bond between him, his classmates, and his mentors. Prentiss liked the intimacy of the Rutgers–Camden campus compared to larger schools, describing how much easier it is to get to know other doctoral students and to help one another. “They’re some of my closest friends now…if not for them, I wouldn’t be here today.”
“Rutgers is very supportive of [its] students,” Prentiss says, mentioning that Rutgers faculty members have pushed him to publish his research, to teach, and to develop professionally. “I didn’t know how good the package was until I got here.” He explains that Dr. Brandi Blessett, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration, acted as a mentor to him, saying that they connected immediately upon her arrival this past fall. “It’s nice to have down-to-earth faculty who are truly interested in a student’s development.”
He recently earned a Rutgers–Camden Campus Student Leadership Award and won second place for the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management Poster Award, through his hard work and his drive to merge academics with community engagement. He has received a Pre-doctoral Dissertation Fellowship from Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where he will be a Riley Scholar-In-Residence and a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology. Prentiss did not even directly apply to the college, but had submitted his research to the Consortium for Faculty Diversity in Liberal Arts Colleges approximately a year prior, and received an invitation from the school based on his work. They offered him an interview, and that night he received a phone call from the chair pf the department offering him the position. Prentiss has also been accepted into the Building Future Faculty Program at North Carolina State University, which is a highly competitive workshop for doctoral students and post-doctoral scholars who are dedicated to promoting diversity in higher education.
Prentiss is currently a Research Assistant in the Department of Public Policy and Administration and a Graduate Academic and Assessment Coordinator in the Office of Housing and Residence Life, which are positions that combine research skills and one-on-one work with students. This kind of work, he says, can help prepare him for the research and student advising he will have to do as a professor. While at Colorado College, Prentiss will be teaching courses such as Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality and Community Development. “[This role will] give me more of a realistic view of life after school,” Prentiss says. He admits that even though it is sometimes difficult to engage students, he loves teaching. Teaching helped him strengthen both his professional and social relationships, even beyond the classroom, and enabled him to practice what he is studying. “My goal is to conduct research not just for the sake of pleasing the academe…research becomes an elite conversation if it isn’t enacted.” He has also considered being a public administrator. “I want to actually do something…to put that research into practice, not just talk about it.” He ultimately aims to combine his desire to teach with a position that allows him to authorize programs that can make a difference in the impoverished communities.
Prentiss mentions that because of where he’s from and all that he’s accomplished, he wants to inspire others. “I want to be a role model for others…People that came from where I came from can do it, too.”
*UPDATE 2/5/2016: Prentiss successfully defended his dissertation and has accepted a tenure track faculty position at Colorado College for next year.
Written by Rebecca Grubb