March 31, 2008
Foundation renews support for unique fellowship
By Ulf Nilsson
Since 2004, the Mellon Foundation has supported a program that brings together Emory Graduate School and five partner institutions in a unique program designed to help graduate students make the transition from student to professionals.
Each year, six or so Emory doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences teach one course per semester at one of the partner institutions: Agnes Scott College, Clark Atlanta University, Dillard University, Morehouse College and Spelman College.
These fellows are at a crucial juncture. As advanced graduate students at a prestigious university, they excel in their areas of scholarship. But chances are they know less about the other elements of the academic profession. Enter the core innovation of the program: a monthly professionalization seminar with two Emory professors who direct the Mellon program.
Teaching the profession
“The seminar provides knowledge I didn’t have as a graduate student but wish I’d had,” says Associate Professor of Sociology Regina Werum, co-director of the Mellon program. “We talk about the job market, academic politics, institutional culture, balancing research with other demands, and much more. We aim for a more complete picture of the profession, to help the fellows see themselves in a broader perspective.”
Many fellows remark on the positive impact of the seminar. “The experience turned me around,” says Jennifer Yusin, a 2007 English Ph.D. and ’06–07 fellow. “I had been ready to leave academia, but the fellowship helped me see the variety of options in academic life. In the end I decided to stay.”
Several fellows learned much from discussing their work in the seminar. “Presenting to colleagues from a range of disciplines broadened my view of my own work. That’s useful on the job market as well,” said Franziska Bieri, an ’05–06 fellow and 2007 sociology Ph.D.
Kristy Gordon, a current fellow from sociology, found the teaching experience invaluable. “I and the others had taught at Emory, but it was a great eye-opener to experience and hear about students at other types of institutions. I feel much better prepared to handle teaching in the future.”
One might think that the teaching and the seminar would slow progress on the dissertation, but several fellows saw things differently. “As academics we will never be only scholars but will always be multitasking,” says Caitlin Stewart, a current fellow who recently completed her history Ph.D. “The seminars helped us recognize and respond to that — to balance our time, set reasonable priorities, and work efficiently.”
A future of growth
The Mellon Fellowship is ready to grow and develop: a new cohort of fellows has been selected, and the Mellon Foundation has renewed its support for five more years. During this new grant period, the program will seek to increase the number of fellows and secure the program’s long-term sustainability.
“The Mellon Foundation’s decision confirms Emory’s success at creating a new model in graduate education, blending professional preparation and institutional collaboration,” says Professor of American Studies Rudolph Byrd, co-director of the program.
“The Mellon fellowship does so much good for so many constituents,” says Lisa A. Tedesco, dean of the Graduate School. “We are deeply grateful to professors Regina Werum and Rudolph Byrd, to the liaisons and mentors at our partner institutions for their tremendous support of our students, and of course to the Mellon Foundation for their leadership in shaping graduate education for future generations.”