UMass Amherst College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Names Felicia Griffin-Fennell Director of the Academic Fellows Program
Felicia Griffin-Fennell has been appointed as the first full-time director of the Academic Fellows Program (AFP) that is housed in the UMass Amherst College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS). This includes a faculty appointment in the department of sociology. Griffin-Fennell officially begins her role on June 1.
Through the director’s leadership, SBS strives to grow and scale the impact of the Academic Fellows Program (AFP), which serves approximately 2200 or 45% of SBS undergraduate students who identify as first-generation, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and/or from families with low incomes. AFP aims to ensure equity; foster a sense of belonging and community; provide holistic support for students’ academic, professional development, civic and personal pursuits; and close the opportunity gap for historically marginalized students.
“I am thrilled that Dr. Griffin-Fennell has agreed to take on this critical role in the College. Felicia brings a wealth of experience and strategic leadership to this role and we look forward to a new era of AFP under her tutelage,” said John A. Hird, dean of SBS.
Hird also thanked the search committee members for their work in identifying a strong pool of candidates. Chaired by Lynn Phillips, senior associate dean for education and student development and senior lecturer of communication, the committee included: Odessa Burkett, SBS assistant director of career and professional development; Mythreyi Krishnan, SBS director of communications and external affairs; C.N. Le, senior lecturer in the sociology department and director of the Asian and Asian American studies certificate program; Kimberlee Perez, assistant professor in the communication department; and Kimoyia Walters ‘21, undergraduate student and AFP member.
Griffin-Fennell brings more than ten years of professional experience in higher education with significant experience working with underrepresented populations and students from marginalized backgrounds. Her academic background includes an M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Connecticut.
Prior to coming to UMass Amherst, she was founding director of STEM Starter Academy in Springfield Technical Community College, where she was involved in a statewide program to increase the number of students who graduate with STEM degrees. Later, Griffin-Fennell was appointed to manage a $3.3 million, 5-year HSI STEM grant from the United States Department of Education. In both roles, she was responsible for leading interventions and programming designed to increase the number of students who enter, persist in, and complete STEM associate degrees through increasing academic exposure and access, as well as reducing educational inequities for Hispanic students and students from low-income backgrounds.
“Attending university for anyone can be challenging. But for underrepresented students, attending university can present a plethora of fears, doubts, and lack of educational wealth and background, which serve as obstacles on the path to degree,” said Griffin-Fennell. “I am grateful for this opportunity to work with UMass students in order to help them learn how to navigate through college and their majors, remain committed to their education, and stay focused on their immediate and long-term goals and aspirations.”
As a lecturer in the department of sociology, Griffin-Fennell will offer courses in that department as well as student success courses such as First Year Seminars and the team-based-learning (TBL) Diversity Fellows Practicum course for AFP peer leaders. She is also positioned to serve as a faculty mentor and sponsor for senior theses, independent studies, and internships.
Additionally, the director of AFP will work with partners across SBS and UMass. In collaboration with the SBS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) coordinating committee, Griffin-Fennell will serve as a faculty liaison to SBS departments and to student groups working on issues of undergraduate diversity, equity and inclusion.
As a member of the SBS Student Success Team, the director’s work is informed by, and contributes to, SBS Pathways, the college’s leading-edge, proactive student success, advising and curriculum model. “We are so fortunate to welcome Dr. Griffin-Fennell to SBS and the Student Success Team,” said Lynn Phillips, SBS senior associate dean for education and student development.“Her approach to student support and program building aligns perfectly with our SBS Pathways model and our undergraduate program’s DEIJ strategic goals. We heard overwhelming enthusiasm about her leadership and deep commitment to BIPOC and first-generation students from faculty, advisors, and students who attended her talk (during the search process). She is a thoughtful educator, visionary DEIJ program leader, and strategic and collaborative campus partner with exciting plans for expanding and deepening AFP’s impact.”