Emory Report
April 30, 2007
Volume 59, Number 29

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April 30, 2007
Future looks bright for fellows, growth of Mellon graduate program

by kim urquhart

The Mellon Graduate Teaching Fellowship, an innovative program that places Emory’s top graduate students in the classrooms of five partner institutions, welcomed six new fellows at its annual spring reception and honored the five current fellows who will soon join the professoriate with newly-minted PhDs.

“This program has meant a great deal to me, opening doors and opportunities that I never dreamt would be possible,” said Emory doctoral student Alicia Decker, who for the past year has taught Women’s Studies and African Studies as a fellow at Agnes Scott College. “Because of the Mellon fellowship, I have been able to achieve many personal and professional goals.”

The fellowship support has helped Decker complete her dissertation, gain valuable experience as a teacher and a scholar, and land a tenure-track position at Purdue University. As the current fellows shared how the program has helped shape their future, the future of the program is also taking shape.

As the MGTF enters its fourth year, Emory hopes to renew funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and strengthen and expand the program.

The fellowship supports the professional development of advanced graduate students earning doctoral degrees in the humanities and social sciences. Fellows are placed in the classrooms of five partner institutions for one academic year, where they teach two undergraduate courses while completing their dissertations. The fellowships are centered on teaching at the host schools and mentoring undergraduates, as well as on participating in a professionalization seminar with other Mellon fellows. Fellows are paired with mentors at the host institutions for additional support.

“It’s a wonderful partnership in the truest sense,” said Lisa Tedesco, dean of the Graduate School where the program is based.

The MGTF grew out of the Emory-Dillard Graduate Teaching Fellowship, a Mellon-funded partnership between Emory and Dillard University, a historically black institution in New Orleans. Host institutions in the MGTF consortium have expanded to include Agnes Scott College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College. This multi-institutional partnership helps further strengthen Emory’s ties in the Southeast among liberal arts colleges, research universities and historically black colleges and universities, said Professor of American Studies Rudolph P. Byrd, co-founder of both the MGTF and the Emory-Dillard program.

The upcoming fellowship year will mark the return to New Orleans of two fellows after Hurricane Katrina had kept participation at Dillard’s campus on hold. “We’re delighted that our longest-standing consortium member is able to join the group and host fellows again,” said Associate Professor of Sociology Regina Werum, co-director of the MGTF.

Fostering the professional teaching skills of graduate students is a major goal of the program. The fellowship also helps to strengthen the graduate education at Emory, and reflects many of the aspirations of the University’s strategic plan.

“The program helps prepare future faculty through the tremendous experience of leaving the bubble called Emory and going out into the real world,” said Werum, whose monthly Mellon seminar has become a cornerstone of the program.

Led by Werum and Byrd, the seminar functions as a sounding board for the fellows’ teaching experiences and dissertation progress, and encourages interdisciplinary dialogue on the issues and debates shaping higher education.

“I learned so much about career development through these seminars,” said Andrea Arrington, a fellow at Clark Atlanta who has accepted a tenure-track position in African history at the University of Arkansas. “My commitment to this career path has intensified despite the difficulties of finishing a dissertation, teaching and being on the job market. That is because Dr. Werum and Dr. Byrd became role models and served as inspirations of what I someday hope to be.”

Emory hopes that the MGTF program will serve as an innovative model in graduate education, Byrd said. “Our combined commitment to the Mellon Graduate Teaching Fellowship Program has produced, we feel, a new national model in graduate education that emphasizes mentoring, economy in the deployment of resources, and substantive collaboration that advances the education of both undergraduates and graduate students,” he said.

MGTF administrators are preparing for the renewal process in 2007-08 and are hopeful that the future will hold both continued funding and substantial growth of the program.

“We feel strongly encouraged by the success of the program as well as the feedback from the Mellon Foundation,” Werum said.

Discussions have centered on expanding the number of fellowships to 10 per year in order to place two fellows at each of the participating colleges, and other issues. “We are also looking to expand the professionalism seminar that is such a critical part of the program, and to recognize and strengthen the way mentors at the participating schools work with our graduate students,” Tedesco said. “These are careful steps to grow the program in ways that will preserve and build on its excellence.”

To make the program self-sufficient and sustainable in years to come, Emory is exploring how to secure long-term funding for the program. “The Mellon Foundation is helping us lay the foundation by funding a strong and valuable program. It may be time to examine ways to build a permanent source of funds to move the program forward,” Tedesco said.