Mellon Mays program funding extended

By Matt Day

Two years ago, Shana Redmond ’02 received her PhD from Yale University. The accomplishment isn’t rare – about 60 percent of Macalester graduates go on to pursue advanced degrees. But Redmond, who is now a tenure-track faculty member at the University of Southern California, represents a triumph for what has become one of Macalester’s most successful pieces of co-curricular programming.

Redmond was the first graduate of Macalester’s iteration of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program to join the faculty of a college. The fellowship, a national effort to encourage students of color to enter academia, has sponsored a program at Macalester since 2000.

Last Friday, Macalester received a $373,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to continue participating in the program through the 2012-13 academic year. In the 11 years since Macalester began training fellows, almost two thirds of program alumni have gone on to pursue graduate degrees. Including Redmond, thirty-six percent have completed or are working toward doctoral degrees.

Jane Rhodes, professor of American studies and the program’s administrator, says the success rate is one of the best among colleges participating in the program.

“I think [the foundation] is really happy with how we run the program,” Rhodes said. “We have a higher percentage than almost any other school. It shows that we select students who are going to get the most out of the program.”

Through mentorships, financial sponsorship and other resources, the MMUF program supports students as undergraduate and graduates in order to even the playing field in higher education. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in 2005 only 16.5 percent of full-time professors in the United States were people of color.

“Programs like Mellon do an enormous amount to level the playing field in academia,” Rhodes said.

While Rhodes heads the administrative side of the program, history professor Peter Rachleff coordinates MMUF activities on a day-to-day basis.

“MMUF is a necessary program at Macalester because it gives students of color options for careers outside of the regular vocational possibilities – jobs that require skills like engineering, medicine, economics, etc,” said Celeste Prince ’10, Mellon fellow. “We can make just as big of an impact on the world through teaching by using ourselves as examples for the next generation.”

Prince says she has applied to eight graduate schools’ creative writing masters of fine arts programs, and wants to pursue a doctorate afterward.

“I know that I belong in the academy,” Prince said. “All I ever think about sometimes is school.”

Another fellow, Jeff Yamashita ’11, says he hopes to teach at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“The MMUF program has given me the opportunity to enhance my critical analysis of the world around me,” Yamashita said. “It is very important because it gives minorities on campus an outlet to have open and safe discussions about topics that pertain to race and ethnicity.