Encouraging minority students to earn PhDs is the goal of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program, now in its 30th year and its 11th year at Macalester.

“We’re trying to get students of color on track to become professors,” says Mellon faculty coordinator and history professor Peter Rachleff. “The ultimate goal is to diversify the pool of faculty out there.” 

Proof that the program works is borne out right here on campus: Three current Mac professors are MMUF alumni: Duchess Harris, American studies; Alicia Munoz, Hispanic studies; and Karin Velez, history. 

MMUF students are chosen for the program as sophomores, and as juniors and seniors they take part in weekly meetings and summer seminars, as well as working on research with faculty member mentors. “It’s an incredible amount of support,” says Gabriella Deal-Marquez ’12 (Mexico), “an amount of academic support we wouldn’t have received otherwise.” She’s working with Hispanic studies professor Alicia Munoz on a project concerning Mexican women artists and nationhood. 

Deal-Marquez is one of five Mac seniors in the program; five juniors are also taking part. Because graduate school can last up to eight years, only two former Mellon fellows from Macalester have thus far earned PhDs: Shana Redmond ’02, an assistant professor of African American studies at USC who earned a PhD in that field from Yale, and Andre Carrington ’03, a New York writer and scholar whose American studies PhD is from NYU. 

Last summer two more recent alums returned to Macalester to present to the fellows something they called “Crash Course PhD,” in which they discussed everything from how to write a statement of purpose for a graduate school application to how to defend a thesis. Kiri Sailiata ’06, working on a PhD in American culture at the University of Michigan, was joined by Tsione Wolde-Michael ’08, who is earning a history PhD at Harvard. 

Macalester’s MMUF program, one of the few to offer seminars during the school year, is seen as a model nationwide, says Sailiata. She adds, “It offered me both the resources and the opportunity to contemplate a career path I’d never before considered nor thought possible. It was a profoundly challenging and transformative experience.”

October 4 2011

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