“Transforming the face of Academia” is the motto of theMellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship.
The fellowship, now open to minority and non-minority students,is the only program in the nation to have graduated 100African-American PhDs and Dillard University is proud to be one ofthe participating schools with five senior Mellon-Mays fellows andthree juniors.
The purpose of the fellowship is to increase the number ofundergraduate students’ opportunities and access to post-graduatedoctoral studies by doing extensive research in their undergraduateyears. Students apply after their sophomore year and spend the nexttwo years conducting research in a discipline they choose. TakiyahFranklin, a graduating senior English major, said she has been ableto narrow her research to suit her through her fellowship.
“One thing it has definitely done is helped me get a specificfocus and solidify my interest,” said Franklin. “I’ve been able tocreate a specialty, so to say, for myself.”
Mellon fellows are granted a fellowship based on their gradepoint average, research interest and personal statement. The Officeof Academic Affairs compiles a list of students who are potentiallyqualified to a fellow and those students are then invited to apply.Dillard requires a 3.5 grade point average which is higher than thenational grade point average of 3.2 required by the program. Oncestudents have met the Dillard requirements they are then allowed toapply nationally. The program is only open to undergraduates whowill pursue doctorates in the arts and sciences, particularly thesocial and physical sciences, and humanities.
While the fellows are undergraduates their main focus isresearch, but they are driven to obtain a doctorate in theirdiscipline and educate others. The two years spent researchingculminates in a graduate level thesis to be presented at the end oftheir fellowship.
The Mellon Foundation was established in 1969 to serve as abridge between underrepresented groups and higher education byincorporating an undergraduate fellowship into the program. In2003, the foundation revamped and changed the name to theMellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship in honor of Dr. Benjamin E.Mays, a prominent leader in academia and civil rights.
These structural changes have been linked to making an impact onthe potency of the fellowship.
“Fellows, whether they are Mellon or Melton, add to theintellectual atmosphere on campus that is visible because we areable to engage in discussion about literature and other topics,”said Franklin.
Dr. Jerry W. Ward, distinguished scholar and professor ofEnglish and African world studies, agrees with Franklin’ssentiment.
“I would hope the impact has been to reinforce a sense ofacademic excellence and academic research at Dillard,” said Ward.”The fellows are trying to ensure that a sense of what it means todevelop a career has been transmitted to their peers.”
The fellows prepare for their post-graduate studies by beingmentored by Dillard faculty members. According to the fellows, thisaspect of the program sets them apart from their peers and givesthem an advantage over the traditional post-graduate student.Frederick Staidum Jr., a graduating senior African World Studiesmajor said the information he is receiving is invaluable.
“[The program] has definitely helped. As far as information I feellike I have an upper hand,” said Staidum. “Every moment is ateaching moment, and they offer lots of insight.”
The fellows will be traveling to Duke University Oct. 29-31 toattend the Mellon Mays regional conference, which is an opportunityfor the students to make connections with other fellows and presenttheir research in a professional environment.
“[The conference] serves as a networking conference, formallyand informally,” said Ward. “It’s a great opportunity for studentsinterested in applying to Duke.”
While the Mellon Mays Fellows are a quiet presence on campus,they would like Dillard to be aware of the positive impact that theprogram has made on them.
“I would like for Dillard to know that the change in the namesuggests that the Mellon-Mays’s programs will be more competitive,”said Ward. “It is a wonderful way to make contacts andnetwork.”
Franklin advises freshman to use all the resources available tothem.
“Take advantage of the opportunity because the fellowshipprovides access to things you wouldn’t otherwise have,” saidFranklin. “Which is very necessary in today’s society which is notdesigned for underrepresented groups to pursue careers inacademia.”