The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Mellon Mays Fellowship Supports Minority Students

On Monday, April 23, the five Grinnell College Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows of the class of 2012 presented their senior research papers during an hour-long program in JRC 101. The papers were the culmination of two long years of study and scholarship, and fellows Melissa Vasquez ’12, Sophie Fajardo ’12, Lizeth Gutierrez ’12, Isaiah Iboko ’12 and Nidia Bautista ’12 seemed eager to share the fruits of their labors with the crowd that filled the room.

The research topics presented were eclectic—ranging from an investigation of the higher education opportunities available to undocumented students in the Los Angeles Unified School District to an analysis of the beauty standards and racial politics expressed in the pages of Latina magazine. However, all fellows expressed a concern for social justice and for greater diversity in the range and scope of topics addressed by academia.

This reflects the mission statement of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program, which seeks to provide institutional and financial support to young scholars aiming to shake up the world of higher education.

“I feel like everybody that’s in Mellon Mays has interesting ideas that are quirky and worth pursuing, that I think are really something to bring to the academy,” said Fajardo.

Fellows must be high-achieving, interested in pursuing a PhD after graduation and committed to the program’s mission of addressing the underrepresentation of minority groups in the American educational system. As it culminates in a long-term independent research project, fellowship in the program is rigorous and time consuming. Though this may sound like a daunting task, the independent research component is a large part of the draw for many Mellon Mays applicants.

“What appealed most to me was the room for creativity,” said Katie In ’13.

Each fellow chooses an individual faculty advisor to guide them in their research, and all are assisted by program director Professor Michelle Nasser, who was herself a Mellon Mays undergraduate fellow. Fellows check in with their advisers at weekly seminar meetings.

“A lot of the stuff we do is to talk about the realities of academia, which sort of demystifies what it means to be a professor, and what it means to produce scholarship, so that’s another important resource that the program has to offer,” In said.

Fellows also benefit from the opportunity to network and share ideas with other undergraduate fellows from all over the nation at periodic MellonMays conferences.

“I really like that there’s a huge community of support,” In added. “Going to the conference we met a ton of people, our interests intersected, we hit it off right away.”

Additionally, the program allows students to enter graduate school with substantial research experience already under their belts. Fajardo, for example, was accepted into University of Chicago’s doctorate of sociology program, in part based on the strength of the research paper she wrote as a Mellon Mays fellow. Fellows also receive financial support in the form of a stipend.

“[You] devise a project … that will allow you to use the funds from the foundation to do intensive research, so that in the end you’ll produce a product that accords with what professional scholarship looks like in your field,” said Mateo Jarquin ’13.

“Giving the funding for anybody who’s interested in going into academia—I think is a really good thing, and I think to change the face of academia is really important. Knowledge is so racialized and sexualized, it’s just so standard, and I think we need a very diverse wealth of knowledge to make social change,” Fajardo said of the program’s importance. “The more different it can be, the better it can be.”

Though Vasquez, Fajardo, Gutierrez, Iboko, and Bautista will be graduating this Spring, the classes of 2013 and 2014 each boast a new crop of fellows ready to meet the challenges of the Mellon Mays program. For example, In has chosen to focus her research project on the use of new media by young Asian-American artists, while Jarquin is studying the way the Eisenhower administration interacted with the governments of several Latin American nations during the 1950s.

The other three members of the 2013 Mellon Mays cohort, Joy Sales, Debbie Cifuentes, and Nancy Repreza, will present their research papers next spring alongside Jarquin and In.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *