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Partnership aims to foster more diversity in academic careers

April 13, 2015

A Midwest-based consortium of research universities, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has partnered with a network of liberal arts colleges on a program to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to pursue graduate work and academic careers at a wide range of institutions.

The seven-year initiative, called the Undergraduate and Faculty Fellows Program for a Diverse Professoriate, brings together the 14 liberal arts colleges in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) with the 15 institutions affiliated with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC). ACM and CIC will share an $8.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which aims to expand participation by underrepresented groups in the career pipeline from college student to liberal arts college professor.

Photo: Sarah Mangelsdorf

Sarah Mangelsdorf

“This partnership will help us smooth pathways that we already know exist between Big Ten universities and our private, liberal arts colleagues,” says UW–Madison Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf. “It can be a challenging transition to come to graduate school from a liberal arts college, especially for first-generation students and students from diverse backgrounds. This important collaborative initiative should make that transition easier for students. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its generous support of this initiative.”

In addition to helping students transfer to larger institutions for advanced degrees, project partners also want to encourage more graduate students from research universities to consider careers as faculty members at liberal arts colleges.

“One of the most remarkable features of American higher education since 1950 is its democratization,” says Mellon President Earl Lewis. “The number of colleges and universities has doubled, the number of first-time enrolled students has grown sevenfold and access has increased significantly. As we look to the future, it remains for the academy to develop an ever more diverse pool of talent that matches this continued democratization. This grant aids in that effort and it serves as a model for collaboration between the liberal arts college and research university sectors.”

Specifically, the grant will allow CIC universities to offer paid summer research opportunities in the humanities, humanistic social sciences and the arts to students at ACM schools. It will also provide faculty fellowships and mentoring for scholars, preferably from CIC universities, whose backgrounds, life experiences and goals enhance diversity on ACM campuses.

“It can be a challenging transition to come to graduate school from a liberal arts college, especially for first-generation students and students from diverse backgrounds.”

Sarah Mangelsdorf

Additionally, the grant will support a series of workshops focused on strengthening connections between the liberal arts colleges and research universities in the two consortia. These meetings will provide resources for colleges to create academic settings and hiring practices to support diverse and inclusive faculties.

“The Fellows Program will leverage the strengths of these two consortia, both individually and as partners in collaboration, to address the challenges of diversifying the professoriate,” says CIC executive director Barbara McFadden. “Together we can connect undergraduate and graduate programs across research universities and liberal arts colleges. This allows us to foster a systemic approach to broadening access for new scholars, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, and preparing them for success as faculty.”

ACM member institutions include Beloit College, Carleton College, Coe College, Colorado College, Cornell College, Grinnell College, Knox College, Lake Forest College, Lawrence University, Luther College, Macalester College, Monmouth College, Ripon College and St. Olaf College.

CIC member institutions include the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, Indiana University, University of Iowa, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, Rutgers University and University of Wisconsin–Madison.