May 7, 2007
Mellon Mays fellowship prepares scholars to transform the academy
by kim urquhart
The three seniors participating in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship have different plans upon graduation from Emory this month: Rhodes scholar Zachary Manfredi will spend the summer working on behalf of indigenous communities at the World Bank before starting Oxford University in the fall; Nicole Naar will help Mexican immigrants learn English through Teach for America; and Drew Winchester plans to pursue a career at Emory. Yet all agree that the program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was the most rewarding aspect of their Emory experience, one that gives them a distinct advantage when they eventually enter graduate school and the professorate.
“Mellon has afforded me tremendous opportunities,” said Naar. “The connections I made with my adviser and the fellows is definitely one of the high points of my experience at Emory.”
Since 2000, when Professor of American Studies Rudolph P. Byrd provided leadership in the establishment of MMUF at Emory, the program has supported undergraduates who feel called to earn a doctorate and teach at the college level.
“The purpose of the program is to increase the number of historically underrepresented groups and others in higher education who share the commitment to earning a Ph.D., teaching, research and eradicating disparities based on race,” said Byrd, the program’s coordinator.
It’s a commitment that the Mellon scholars will continue throughout their careers in the academy.
“The Mellon Mays program sets the bar at nothing short of transformation,” said Devon Murphy, a recent Emory graduate who is now a doctoral student at New York University thanks in part to the fellowship. “We as Mellon individuals must transform the university, and transform those environments in a way that is attentive not only to the racial and ethnic disparities but also to the attendant difficulties. The Mellon Mays program gives us the opportunity to marshal the resources of the university toward the greater good.”
Murphy called the undergraduate program “almost an exact replica of what graduate school life would be,” offering the financial resources and the mentoring necessary to construct a long-term research project.
And mentoring is a key strength of the program. “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.”
As mentors, faculty members have the knowledge and responsibility to demystify the aspects of earning a doctorate and can provide insight into the rewards of a career in scholarship and teaching. The mentoring relationship offers a trusting learning environment that provides opportunities for both mentor and student to stretch beyond boundaries.
“The possibility of offering organized structured mentoring to undergraduates who may not necessarily identify other opportunities of what they might do is really important,” said Manfredi’s mentor Elizabeth Goodstein, associate professor in Emory’s Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and director of graduate studies.
“Working with Dr. Goodstein has been so fulfilling for me in a number of ways,” Manfredi said, “including not only the intellectual exchange that’s been going on in terms of fostering that relationship, but also thinking about what it would eventually mean to be a teacher and a mentor myself. The advantages are un-
Winchester’s mentor Lynn Bertrand, associate professor of music, pointed to mentoring’s long-term benefits. “Students who experience this program and have this close relationship with a faculty member are the most likely to have those sorts of relationships with their students in the future,” Bertrand said.
The range of programming available through the MMUF includes Mellon fellows from partner institutions. In June, new fellows from as far away as the University of Cape Town, South Africa, will convene at Emory for the 14th annual United Negro College Fund/Mellon summer institute. In addition to developing prospectuses of the research projects that they will complete over the next two years with their faculty mentor at their home institution, the rising juniors participate in various seminars and activities at the month-long interdisciplinary institute.
At the fourth annual MMUF banquet held April 26, the fellows honored Byrd for his role in bringing together Emory students and faculty in this international effort to transform the academy.
“Dr. Byrd is a wonderful resource,” said Winchester. “He’s really taken the program under his wing and invested a lot of time into it.”