Emory Report

April 24, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 30

Mellon program to help minority undergrads

By Michael Terrazas

For six summers, Rudolph Byrd, Mark Sanders and a group of other University faculty have led the Race and the Academy Institute for 25 Mellon Fellows from colleges and universities that are part of the consortium of the United Negro College Fund. Emory students have not been included in this summer program, but that will change in June 2001.

A $475,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation will establish the Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program at Emory, beginning next spring with selection of six Emory Mellon Fellows for fall 2001. Byrd, associate professor of American Studies and director of African American Studies, and Sanders, associate professor of English and associate director of African American Studies, will serve as co-coordinators of Emory's MMUF program.

Launched in 1988, the MMUF program promotes diversity in academia by identifying promising minority scholars--African American, Native American and Hispanic--and pairing them up with professor-mentors in their chosen fields of research, then encouraging them to work toward their doctorates by offering student loan repayment. A number of universities participate through direct grants from the Mellon Foundation, and others participate through grants from the United Negro College Fund.

In their proposal, Byrd and Sanders designed a detailed plan for the grant, which will fund the initial six-year cycle of the program, that will involve a wide range of programming, not just with Emory faculty and staff but also with other Mellon Fellows from neighboring institutions. Now the two professors will turn their attention to forming a committee of about eight faculty who will review applications from prospective Mellon Fellows next spring.

"The [student and mentor] pairing goes to the very heart of the Mellon initiative," Byrd said. "It's a very particular kind of relationship that emerges in the process of mentoring, and it's that relationship that the program seeks to foster."

"[One goal is] the possibility of a professional life in the academy to be on par with other preprofessional assumptions that students bring to their undergraduate careers-for the possibility of a career in the academy to be as visible as a career in medicine," Sanders added.

Rising juniors will be able to apply to be Mellon Fellows for the final two years of undergraduate study. Once chosen, fellows will each select a faculty mentor with whom they will work on an ongoing research project in their chosen field. They will also meet biweekly for a Mellon Seminar that will combine lunch with discussion of a wide range of intellectual topics, details of the program and continual updates on the research projects.

Fellows also will be provided stipends for summer research and travel, including trips with their mentors to academic conferences. Finally, as they prepare to graduate, fellows will inform the program of their post-baccalaureate plans and be encouraged to remain in contact with their mentors.

Byrd and Sanders said the mentor-student relationship should differ from that between an advisor and advisee; mentors will be encouraged to think of Mellon Fellows as junior colleagues or protegés. "It's unusual for a faculty member to invite an undergraduate to accompany him or her to a professional conference," Byrd said. "This is something that we will be doing routinely within the context of the Mellon initiative."

Mellon Fellows who choose to pursue a doctorate in a Mellon-designated field in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences are eligible for student loan repayment up to $10,000. Byrd and Sanders said they will coordinate with the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid to work out the loan repayment details.

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