Johnson Chapel

(AMHERST, Mass., Feb. 5, 2018) —The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Amherst College a prestigious $500,000 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) Program grant. The grant will fund an initiative aimed at attracting and preparing Amherst students from underrepresented groups for graduate study and academic positions in the humanities. The overarching goal of the College’s program is to contribute to the Mellon Foundation’s mission to diversify the faculty ranks of American colleges and universities.

“We are thrilled to join the MMUF community,” said Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones, one of the MMUF program directors at Amherst. “Our students and alumni are already making a significant impact on the humanities. By joining MMUF, we will be able to contribute more directly to the national effort to build a more diverse faculty and to draw new voices and talents into higher education.”

For decades, about 90 percent of Amherst graduates have gone on to top graduate or professional education programs within five years of receiving their degrees. Amherst alumni of all backgrounds have tended to gravitate toward professional degrees rather than Ph.Ds. With the grant, the College aims to boost that latter number significantly by providing support to students in pursuit of graduate degrees or academic positions in the humanities. Participants will receive faculty mentorship, hands-on guidance and advice from graduate student assistants, as well as funding for travel and research, networking opportunities with Amherst and MMUF alumni, and help with navigating the graduate school selection and application processes, among other benefits.

Fittingly, MMUF alumna Marisa Parham, Amherst professor of English and a faculty diversity and inclusion officer—along with colleague Allen J. Hart, the James E. Ostendarp Professor of Psychology and a faculty diversity and inclusion officer—will be centrally involved in helping to design Amherst’s MMUF activities. In addition, several Amherst faculty members—in black studies, sexuality and women’s and gender studies, and English—have already agreed to participate.

“It really is an honor to get to work on the other side of the MMUF initiative,” said Parham, who participated in the program during her undergraduate years at Washington University in the early 1990s. “Much of being personally successful in academia is about understanding the kinds of information and support that can be acquired through active participation in broader intellectual and professional communities, which is a kind of access MMUF excels at. This program is also especially important at a moment when the College is working to strengthen faculty diversity. Committing to working with programs like MMUF means taking a more institutionally self-conscious approach to understanding our students’ research in relation to larger matters of faculty pipeline, academic diversity and Amherst’s place in larger academic networks.” 

The College’s MMUF program complements its longstanding success in making private liberal arts education accessible and affordable to students of every racial, ethnic and socioeconomic background. Currently, 55 percent of students at Amherst identify as students of color or non-U.S. citizens, 22 percent receive Pell Grants and 17 percent are first-generation college students. In fact, 46 percent of Amherst students who graduated last year majored the humanities.

About the MMUF Program

Established by The Mellon Foundation in partnership with a select group of undergraduate colleges and universities in 1988, and named in honor of scholar-educator-activist Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (1894-1984), the MMUF Program encourages scholars from groups underrepresented in or committed to diversifying the academy to pursue the Ph.D. in selected humanities disciplines, in order to enrich and transform these areas of knowledge and America’s institutions of higher education. The MMUF network includes 50 member schools and consortia in the United States and South Africa. Of the more than 5,000 graduates of the MMUF program, more than 700 have earned Ph.D.s and approximately 100 are now tenured faculty members.

The MMUF program is coordinated on each of its member campuses by faculty members and administrators who select their institution’s fellows, typically in the sophomore year. Fellows have demonstrated academic ability and commitment to pursue a doctoral degree in selected humanities and social sciences. Fellows receive many forms of support, including regular, structured programming; faculty mentoring; academic-year stipends for research; support for summer research and participation in academic conferences; and partial repayment of undergraduate loans. The program also includes graduate-level programming that complements and sustains the undergraduate initiative, and supports fellows as they enter and complete graduate school.

About Amherst College

Amherst College prepares students to use ideas to make a difference in the world. Since its 1821 founding in Western Massachusetts, Amherst has demonstrated steadfast confidence in the value of the liberal arts and the importance of critical thinking. Today, its financial aid program is among the most substantial in the nation, and its student body is among the most diverse. Small classes, an open curriculum and a singular focus on undergraduate education ensure that leading scholars engage daily with talented, curious students, equipping them for leadership in an increasingly global and complex world.