Graduate School Launches Major Fellowship Initiative for Underrepresented Students

John McCarthy
John McCarthy
Barbara Krauthamer
Barbara Krauthamer

One hundred fifty graduate students from historically underrepresented populations will receive increased financial support and augmented professional training through a major fellowship initiative recently launched by the Graduate School.

With a $600,000 annual investment, the Research Enhancement and Leadership (REAL) Program is designed to facilitate the recruitment and success of minority students, enrich the university’s intellectual community, and help diversify the professoriate. The REAL fellowship complements a nationally recognized UMass program for underrepresented doctoral candidates in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines and will be awarded to students in the humanities, social sciences, education, business, nursing and the fine arts. Doubling the campus’ financial support for minority students, the initiative increases institutional allocation for diversity fellowships to $1.2 million annually. The new funding reflects a campus-wide financial commitment from the Office of the Provost and all of the colleges and schools.

“I am delighted to announce the creation of the Research Enhancement and Leadership Program, which will simultaneously benefit graduate students from underrepresented populations and the broader university,” said John McCarthy, dean of the Graduate School and senior vice provost for academic affairs. “This undertaking arises from the Graduate School’s recognition that minority graduate students play a crucial role in enhancing UMass’ stature as a world-class research institution. Along with their diverse identities, students from underrepresented populations bring to our campus a diversity of ideas that energizes, expands and elevates the university’s intellectual enterprise. To help ensure the continued vibrancy of our scholarly community, we must more effectively recruit academically talented graduate students from underrepresented populations and prepare them to succeed. This new fellowship program will help accomplish both of these objectives.”

According to McCarthy, the Research Enhancement and Leadership Program will serve as an effective recruitment tool by supplementing standard doctoral program funding offers – typically consisting of academic-year research or teaching assistantships for five academic years – with $4,000 research fellowships for four summers. “With the implementation of this initiative, eligible new students will receive continuous financial support from their first semester through the end of their fifth academic years at UMass,” McCarthy noted. “This financial security will allow recipients to maximize their scholarly productivity, particularly during the summer months when the REAL fellowship will provide them with the opportunity to focus exclusively on their research and writing. We believe our offer of year-round support to outstanding minority applicants will afford UMass a significant recruiting advantage over competing institutions, where summer funding in the humanities, social sciences and other non-STEM fields is exceedingly rare.”

McCarthy’s optimism is buttressed by the results a pilot version of the REAL Program achieved last year. During the 2014-15 admissions season, the Graduate School and College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) developed enhanced admission offers featuring multi-year commitments of summer support for outstanding minority applicants to SBS doctoral programs. “The results of the collaboration between SBS and the Grad School were eye-opening,” McCarthy said. “The added summer support almost tripled our success rate in recruiting outstanding minority applicants, boosting our yield on admission offers from 24 percent to 62 percent. As a result, almost 25 percent of this year’s first-year SBS doctoral cohort is comprised of students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.”

In addition to providing fellows with enhanced financial support, the REAL Program will further bolster the recruitment and retention of underrepresented graduate students by adopting a holistic approach to their graduate education. “Our institutional investment in the academic and professional success of minority students extends well beyond the critical area of fellowship funding,” said Barbara Krauthamer, associate dean for student inclusion and engagement in the Graduate School, who will supervise development of the REAL initiative. “By offering fellows increased faculty mentorship, access to high-impact professional development activities designed to position them for faculty careers, and an array of regularly scheduled events that will promote social connections across academic departments, this program will foster the development of a larger, more engaged, and more supportive community for underrepresented graduate students at UMass.”  

Although a majority of REAL Fellowships will be awarded to graduate applicants, current UMass students will also benefit from the new program, which the Graduate School will implement over the next four years. This summer, approximately 35 advanced Ph.D. and M.F.A. candidates from diverse cultural backgrounds will be selected for three-month fellowships supporting their research or creative work. Additional returning students will also be funded with one-time summer stipends in future years. All fellowship recipients will participate in the program’s social and professional development activities.

McCarthy notes that expectations for the Research Enhancement and Leadership Program are extraordinarily high due to the effectiveness of a parallel UMass project focusing on the recruitment and retention of minority graduate students in STEM disciplines, the Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (NEAGEP). Last May, the White House honored NEAGEP’s director, Sandra Petersen, with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in recognition of her “transformative” work on behalf of underrepresented students pursuing advanced degrees in the sciences.

“At UMass, we have seen firsthand the profoundly positive impact a comprehensive fellowship, professional development, and community-building program can have on student success,” McCarthy said. “While a high bar has been set for our new initiative, we are confident that it can be cleared. The development of the Research Enhancement and Leadership Program has required substantial contributions from Provost Newman and all of the deans of the schools and colleges at UMass. Their overwhelming enthusiasm for this undertaking dramatically reaffirms the tremendous institutional resolve motivating our efforts to welcome students with varied cultural identities into our scholarly community and the professoriate.”