Diverse Scholars and Scholarship Explored at Mellon Mays Conference

Story posted October 13, 2011

--By Sarah Helenka Siwak '13

mmuf conference
The Northeast Regional Conference of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship brought 100 research fellows to campus.

While most academic conferences focus on the work of graduate students or seasoned researchers, Bowdoin recently hosted a rare undergraduate-centric research conference that brought together 100 fellows from leading colleges and universities around the Northeast.

The annual Northeast Regional Conference of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) was hosted at Bowdoin on October 1, 2011. MMUF promotes diversity and academic excellence in major universities across the U.S., and exposes qualified young scholars to varied academic programs, courses and training designed to prepare them for graduate school and beyond.

This year's conference featured 18 seniors discussing aspects of their ongoing research in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and mathematics, and included a roundtable of five former Bowdoin MMUF fellows sharing their experiences in graduate school. It also allowed coordinators to meet, interact and exchange ideas about programs at their respective institutions.

Dr. Cynthia Neal Spence, Associate Professor of Sociology at Spelman College and Director of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) Mellon Programs, delivered the keynote address titled, "The Imperative to Transform the Academy." Her talk emphasized the importance of addressing the problem of serious racial and ethnic disparities within the Academy.

Why I went to graduate school
Tony Perry
Tony Perry, Jr. '09, doctoral student, Purdue University.

"It was the MMUF, coupled with the truly liberal and exploratory nature of my education at Bowdoin, that provided for my interest in pursing graduate school in American Studies. In fact, last year I returned to a research topic I began exploring during my first summer as a Mellon fellow and this has blossomed into a larger project on which I've both presented various conference papers and written considerably."


She outlined many of the challenges unique to being a racially or ethnically diverse scholar in what many deem a "post-racial" world, especially in the Academy, where the very idea of there being lingering race-related issues has been distorted or dismissed altogether.

Bowdoin alumni and former MMUF fellows Naomi Sturm '08 (Columbia University), Jessica Kenyatta Walker '08 (University of Maryland), Tony Perry, Jr. '09 (Purdue University), Fatoumatta Kunjo '10 (Stanford University), and George Aumoithe '11 (Columbia University), shared insights on life as graduate students, as well as their experiences as MMUF undergraduate fellows at the College.

Current MMUF fellows attending the conference were particularly keen to hear the students' advice on how to navigate graduate school.

"It is useful to have informal writing groups outside of your discipline to illuminate holes in your research," noted Kunjo '10, who currently is a graduate student at Stanford University. "Always keep an eye on the big picture in graduate school."

Following the regional lecture and graduate panel, Dr. Barbara Nesmith, Acting Assistant Director of Columbia University's Office of Diversity of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences gave her professional perspective on the graduate school applications process in a presentation entitled "Roadmap to the PhD."

Senior MMUF fellows shared their research projects, with presentations on topics as diverse as Egyptian music, educational systems in Alabama, and the neuroimmune basis of obesity.

"The excellence of these fellows, and the strength of their scholarship, is testament to how far colleges can go when committed people are working together for a common good," noted Bowdoin MMUF Coordinator Rosemary Effiom. "Bowdoin's fellowship is truly a collaborative effort, with support from the Dean, the MMUF Faculty Advisor Committee, faculty advisors, student mentors, the fellows and staff. I think we are extremely fortunate to have these wonderful people working together to make Bowdoin a place where we cherish excellence and diversity."

The MMUF program is a program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation aimed at expanding minority faculty and others with a dedicated commitment to eradicating racial disparities in higher education. The program identifies, recruits and supports qualified undergraduates across 42 institutions and a consortium of 39 historically black colleges and universities within the membership of the UNCF.

The two-year program includes close faculty mentoring and independent research in core fields in the arts and sciences.

The northeast region of MMUF is comprised of Bowdoin, Brown, Connecticut, Dartmouth, Smith, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams Colleges, as well as Harvard and Yale Universities.

mmuf participants
Conference attendees (l. to r.) Amy Erwin, Naomi Sturm, Fatouma Kunjo, Jessica Walker and Tony Perry.


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