The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship board announced Wednesday that this year’s awards will go to Zoila Bergeron ’17, Danii Carrasco ’17, Aditya Kumar ’17, Lovinia Reynolds ’17, Hassani Scott ’17 and Phoebe Young ’17.
The MMUF program provides community support networks and grants for minority students who seek to conduct research and obtain higher academic degrees, said Associate Dean of the College and MMUF Campus Coordinator Besenia Rodriguez.
The program’s long-term goal is to increase the racial diversity of university professors, she added. Since joining the Mellon consortium in 1992, the University is now one of 40 institutions with a grant from the Mellon Foundation to implement the program, Rodriguez said.
Grants allow students to pursue travel-based research, attend academic conferences or have more time to commit to their research projects. The program was designed to consider resources “holistically” so the recipients “can really treat research like it’s their job,” Rodriguez said.
As the program places unique emphasis on the benefits of mentorship, students are matched with a faculty member in their discipline, Rodriguez said. This focus on guidance also extends to community-oriented networks of academic support.
In addition to being placed in contact with a graduate student within the same field and a faculty advisory board, the six recipients will meet together at least twice a month. “We think about mentoring in a broad way so that students feel like they have a support system moving through what’s unknown for a lot of them,” she said.
While the program is meant to create systems of support for underrepresented minorities, Rodriguez said “these are support structures that are integral to anyone’s success in pursuing” academia. Success in the field necessitates knowledge of “invisible rules” that are “passed on through mentoring,” she said.
It is not enough to simply increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities, Rodriguez said. “The next layer is really making sure that they … are in conversation with other people … who perhaps have navigated similar challenges as people of color in the academy,” she said.
Several recipients, such as Kumar and Bergeron, cited current faculty mentors as the catalysts for their pursuit of the fellowship.
Associate Professor of History and American Studies Naoko Shibusawa’s prominence “as an Asian-American activist professor in academia really inspired me” to pursue scholarship, Kumar said. Kumar concentrates in history and political science, and his research focuses on the power of reclaimed histories to redefine “traditional, Eurocentric, heteronormative, patriarchal models of learning history,” he said.
Bergeron said she first heard of the fellowship through a University dean. A Hispanic studies and literary arts concentrator, Bergeron will pursue research focusing on “the intersection of literary works and the civil war in Spain,” specifically works during the Franco dictatorship, she said.
Reynolds looks forward to conducting research alongside “a cohort of kids of color” with whom to “move through this academic career process,” she said.
As a geology and biology concentrator, Reynolds will research the reforestation of the Mata Atlantica in Brazil. While the project will depend on insight from the social sciences, Reynolds will work primarily from a scientific viewpoint, she said.
Young, who identifies as Ojibwe Native American, seeks to give voice to minority narratives in her Mellon research project. “A lot of things that have affected my family that … there’s not a national consciousness for,” she said.
Like Kumar, Young seeks to break “intentional historical silences” by researching the ways in which the indentured servitude of Native American populations and the enslavement of African individuals reinforced and affected one another at the University. She will use the recent Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice report on University involvement in the slave trade to better understand Brown’s role in the displacement and enslavement of Native Americans, she said.
Young framed the importance of minority voices in academia as explicitly tied to a broader consciousness of minority narratives. “It’s important to fight for their recognition,” she said.