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Building a diverse pipeline for future faculty

Published: November 20, 2018

As colleges and universities across the country seek ways to ensure that the diversity among their faculty reflects the diversity in their student populations, a highly successful collaboration between the ACM and the Big Ten Academic Alliance research universities is making a difference.

This was the consensus among a group of approximately 100 participants of the August 2018 Annual Summit hosted by the Undergraduate and Faculty Fellows Program for a Diverse Professoriate, an $8.1 million program funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Participants included Faculty Fellows, undergraduate fellows, and graduate students. These established and emerging scholars, all of whom represent low-income or minority backgrounds, see their work as changing the institutions that will shape the intellectual discourse of our nation.  

The Fellows Program seeks to diversify the pipeline to the professoriate through programs that support ACM undergraduates who aspire to become faculty, as well as new tenure-track faculty on ACM campuses who have recently completed their graduate studies. Several of the faculty members who attended the Summit are new Faculty Fellows, each of whom receives partial salary support through the grant-funded program, a travel and research stipend, and other benefits to support teaching and scholarship activities on their path to tenure.  

Jesus Smith, a Faculty Fellow who teaches ethnic studies at Lawrence University, is savoring his opportunity to teach and conduct research at an ACM school. “I want to help the next generation by sharing with them what wasn’t shared with me and change the professoriate for the better,” he explained.

“I have a deep-seated feeling that teaching and being a professor is a calling,” said Sonya Maria Johnson, a Faculty Fellow who teaches in the department of religious studies at Beloit College. “I see the chance to seed the thoughts of the next generation as simply too great an opportunity to pass up.”

The ACM undergraduates who attended the Annual Summit are students are from underrepresented backgrounds who have been identified by their colleges as having significant potential for graduate study and interest in a career in college-level teaching and research.

The Graduate School Exploration Fellows (GSEF) program provides these students with faculty mentors, career development support, and a paid summer research experience at a Big Ten Academic Alliance university. The summer research experiences enable the GSEF fellows to conduct research with graduate faculty over an eight-week period in an area of mutual interest.

'I see the chance to seed the thoughts of the next generation as simply too great an opportunity to pass up.'

-Sonya Maria Johnson, Beloit 

GSEF fellows who completed their summer research experiences in June-July 2018 presented at the August Annual Summit on more than 40 research projects across the humanities, arts and social sciences.

“The research presentations demonstrated that the ACM students were well prepared to do important work with respected researchers,” said Brian Williams, ACM Vice President and Director of Faculty Development and Grant Programs.

While many of them will pursue different projects in their graduate studies, their summer experiences were a valuable first step in helping them fall in love with research. “GSEF fellows who have completed the fellowship describe it as a transformative experience. In many cases, it reinforced and informed their decision to pursue graduate study,” Williams said.

The program included mentoring sessions targeted at providing real-world perspectives on navigating the challenges that graduate study inevitably brings.

Keynote speaker Brian Burt, a professor at Iowa State University, advised the GSEF fellows to “resist the need to constantly prove yourself. Instead, try to embrace the experience, try to embrace the unknown and even embrace failure. It is all part of the package and you must persevere to succeed. You wouldn’t have made it here if you weren’t capable of doing the work.”

In reflecting on the Fellows Program and its contributions to student success, Sonya Malunda, ACM President, offered that “There is so much talent among our undergraduate student communities, and we want them to envision that a scholarly career is possible for them and can be rewarding. ACM’s collaboration with the Big Ten Academic Alliance and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is an important effort to help enrich the pipeline for faculty positions across the country.”

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