Mellon Makes Its Mark

Article excerpt

Over the past 13 years, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has invested $50 million in doctoral programs. Their investment is now paying off as the program becomes one of the premier pipelines for producing minority doctorates.

DURHAM, N.C.

Sheldon Lyke had long harbored ambivalence about getting a doctorate to become a professor. His indecision was a result of his uncertainty about whether academic life suited his temperament. Though the Princeton University graduate got into graduate programs in sociology as well as law school, Lyke opted to earn a law degree at Northwestern University.

Nonetheless, the Chicago native credits the influence of the Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program for bringing him around to graduate school. Having participated in the Mellon program at Princeton, Lyke realized that he felt far more fulfilled as a research scholar than in a law firm. Though admitting his first two years in a graduate program at the University of Chicago has been a rough ride for him, Lyke declares he has made the right choice and wants to teach law and sociology in the future.

"I'm glad I'm doing this," he says.

On a balmy, sunny weekend last month on the bucolic campus of Duke University, Lyke was among 160 young scholars assembled at a meeting known to its previous participants as equal parts family reunion and academic conference. The North Carolina campus provided a scenic backdrop for the annual conference of participants in the Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship program, one of the premier doctoral pipeline programs for minority students in the United States.

The annual conference represents one of the signature highlights of the 13-year-old program that has helped produce 60 doctoral recipients and has helped steer more than 500 current Black, American Indian and Latino students into doctoral programs. For three days each June, young scholars who have completed the undergraduate portion of the program gather together at a host campus to network, present papers, socialize and meet prominent senior scholars.

Since the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation launched the MMUF, it's estimated that the New York City-based foundation has invested more than $50 million in the program, according to Mellon officials. "It's been a long-term investment, and it's beginning to pay off," says Dr. Lydia English, Mellon Foundation program officer and director for the MMUF program.

This past June, Mellon officials and program staff members from the Social Science Research Council convened the 10th annual conference, which attracted the 160 former undergraduate fellows, the largest gathering ever for the event. While the bulk of the attendees represented new college graduates and current graduate students, a handful of attendees were recent doctoral recipients either entering the academic job market or working as junior faculty members. Academic luminaries, including Dr. John Hope Franklin, Dr. Houston Baker and Dr. Trudier Harris, also participated in the Duke conference.

"I spoke at the first conference, and it's good to see that the numbers have increased," Franklin notes.

Program officials say the Mellon program is notable among doctoral pipeline efforts because it places a central emphasis on providing the undergraduate fellows a high-quality research experience and matching them with faculty mentors.

"Mellon foundation officials recognized the pivotal experience for minority students deciding on graduate school was getting them research experience," says Dr. Jacqueline Looney, a former Mellon program officer of the MMUF program and the current associate vice-provost for academic diversity at Duke University.

COMING BACK FOR MORE

Dr. Ben Vinson counts his participation as a Mellon fellow as a key building block in the making of his career as a history professor. Considered one of the stars among the Mellon fellows cohort, Vinson, who is African American, speaks glowingly of the Mellon experience, which began when he was an undergraduate history and classics major at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. …