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Undergraduate fellowship seeks students of color to become professors

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF) recently picked five Stanford students to be fellows as part of its commitment to increase diversity in higher education. This year’s new fellows are Alicia Perez ’18, Andrea Flores ’18, Andrea Villa ’18, Jack Herrera ’18 and Rocio Hernandez ’18.

Founded in 1988, MMUF is part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is a principal part of the foundation’s initiative to raise minority representation in university faculty. The foundation hopes that by focusing on undergraduate students it can increase the number of people of color who eventually attain Ph.D.s.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2013 only 16 percent of America’s full-time professors were people of color. Many colleges have faced increasing scrutiny over faculty diversity. For example, Stanford’s group Who’s Teaching Us demanded a range of diversity-oriented reforms from the University this year. Data shows that underrepresentation of minorities persists at Stanford and other universities.

MMUF seeks to combat this gap. Accepted students, who are typically rising juniors, gain access to mentors, programming, research support and grants meant to help fellows develop their interests and write their honors thesis papers.

Every year, MMUF picks five undergraduates from each of the 46 participating universities in the U.S. and South Africa to be fellows. This year’s Stanford recipients vary in their interests and hopes, but they were all picked for their passion and commitment to the goals of MMUF as well as their readiness to pursue Ph.D.s in the MMUF-approved fields, which are centered in the humanities and sciences.

As MMUF’s goal is to diversify higher education, all five fellows are minorities and many are already thinking about how they will use this opportunity to give back to their communities.

Rocio Hernandez, a new fellow and urban studies major, said her research will likely focus on helping Latinx individuals. Similarly, Andrea Flores, a sociology major, hopes to use MMUF’s resources to “give back.”

“I’m gonna do what I can to represent my community, and I’m gonna go back and educate the people in my hometown about the systems that are in place,” Flores said.

For her Mellon Fellowship, Flores hopes to research political injustice and “failures of education” in her town, which she says is home to many undocumented immigrants. She wants to uncover the faults in her community’s school system while also talking to her community about the opportunities available to them.

According to Flores, MMUF was inspired by Benjamin Mays, an African American that fought for his rights to education before the Civil Rights Movement when very few minority students were able to attend universities. After completing his education, Mays gave back to his community through his work as a teacher and dean. Like its inspiration Mays, MMUF seeks to use education to improve society.

New fellows said that they are able to enter their junior year of Stanford knowing that they have access to a close-knit community of individuals not only on the Stanford campus, but also at universities around the U.S. This newfound wealth of resources helps fellows pursue goals that go beyond Stanford campus.

“I want to go back to my community because I feel that no one is paying attention to the issues that are going on,” Flores said.

Flores believes MMUF provides students with opportunities to pursue their own passions and better society. By joining the foundation, students become part of a larger unit, she said — one filled with support and new ideas.

“I think I just really want to hone in more on my own personal interests and understand the way that I can leverage that, both through a career in academia as well as [by lifting] marginalized voices,” Hernandez said.

Flores says MMUF is one of few academic organizations she has found with many people of color.

“I feel very welcomed and very supported because the people that are in charge of it really, really want people to succeed — really want people of color to pursue this path because there aren’t that many,” Flores said.

 

Contact Shilpa Sajja at 19ssajja ‘at’ castilleja.org and Rebecca Mak at 19rmak ‘at’ castilleja.org.

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