Azsherae Gary ’11 is undertaking an in-depth study of academic achievement among young African-American males, focusing on key factors influencing academic success in a college-preparatory program in Philadelphia. Mia Chin ’12 went to Peru last summer for her research project, which focuses on volunteer tourism in Latin America. Elena Swartz ’12 is researching racial disparities in environment and health in the United States and South Africa, and Katherine Sepulveda ’11 is engaged in a philosophical exploration of the experience of birth as a correlative to the experience of death.
Their areas of interest are diverse, but these students and several others at Bryn Mawr meet regularly to discuss their independent research projects, as part of a program designed to have an impact on the next generation of professors. As Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows, they are supported by research stipends and a strong mentorship program. Those who enroll in Ph.D. programs may be eligible for graduate fellowships and student-loan repayment.
The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, begun in 1988, is an initiative of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a philanthropic organization focusing on education. While the parameters of the Fellowship have changed over the years, it maintains its original mission: “to increase the number of minority students, and others with a demonstrated commitment to eradicating racial disparities, who will pursue Ph.D.s in core fields in the arts and sciences.”
Bryn Mawr is one of eight institutions that have participated in the Mellon Mays Fellowship Program since its inception in 1988; the program now operates at 42 schools nationwide. At Bryn Mawr, five new fellows are added to the two-year program each year, making a total of ten senior and junior scholars.
Each student works with a professor on an individual research project, and the Fellowship provides students with semester and summer grants that support their research. Mellon Mays Fellows from various colleges within the region meet each year to present their works-in-progress to one another.
“We’re invested in creating a community of scholars,” said Dean Trecia Pottinger, a member of the Bryn Mawr Class of 2003 and herself a Mellon Mays scholar.
Pottinger, along with Professor Maria Cristina Quintero and Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs Vanessa Christman, coordinates the Mellon Mays program.
An orientation at the beginning of the summer helps prepare new fellows to think and read like scholars. There, fellows hear from faculty members about effective research methods, as well as learning the logistics of completing and submitting an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application.
“The students have responsibilities to other people who are kind enough to be their subjects. It’s a part of learning about being a scholar,” said Pottinger about the IRB process, something only a limited number of students encounter in undergraduate studies.
The Mellon Mays group meets weekly to give progress reports and discuss triumphs and challenges of each student’s research. Social and cultural outings throughout the year complement the academic component of the program, and workshops about graduate school applications, academic leadership, networking, and taking the GREs help prepare fellows for life in the academy.
“We try to integrate pieces about academic life into the program. We want to demystify academic life so student can get a sense of what that life is like, should they choose to follow that path,” said Pottinger.
Mellon Mays Fellows who enroll in Ph.D. programs in the designated fields within 39 months of college graduation are eligible for repayment of their undergraduate loans up to $10,000. The Social Science Research Council and the Woodrow Wilson national Fellowship Foundation partner with the Mellon Mays program to support travel and research grants for fellows during graduate school, as they finish their dissertations, and into their careers as junior faculty members.
—Katherine Bakke ’11