In this post, I write about the history and goals of the Mellon Mays and Edward A. Bouchet Undergraduate Research Fellowship Programs. After delving into some information about the structure of the program, I share my experience thus far as a 2024 Edward A. Bouchet Fellow going into my second semester of the program. Applications are due in early spring of a student’s sophomore year. I highly encourage any and all scholars who want to do research, are interested in graduate study, and are eligible for the fellowship to apply!
Five Facts About the Mellon Mays & Edward A. Bouchet Fellowships!
- The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program is over 30 years old!
MMUF was established in 1988 by William G. Bowen, the then president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Mellon program associate Henry Drewry. The fellowship program began with a cohort of only eight member institutions, but since then has expanded to forty-eight member schools and three consortia! Yale joined the program in its second year in 1989.
- Goal: Address the Problem of Faculty Underrepresentation in Higher Education
Both programs are designed to increase the number of students of color pursuing Ph.D.s and subsequent careers in academia by encouraging fellows to enter doctoral programs. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation states: “The program aims to reduce over time the serious underrepresentation of individuals from certain minority groups at the faculty level, as well as to address the attendant educational consequences of these disparities. The program serves the related goals of structuring campus environments so that they will become more conducive to improved racial and ethnic relations, and of providing role models for all youth.”
- Both Programs are Named After Black Men Who Made Great Strides in Education
Figure 1: Dr. Edward A. Bouchet (left) & Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (right)
MMUF initially was known as the Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship Program, but it was renamed the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship in 2003 to symbolically tie the program’s mission to the legacy and achievements of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. Dr. Mays was born in the Jim Crow South on a cotton plantation in 1894. He traveled north to attend Bates College, where he graduated with a BA and departmental honors. After Bates, he received an MA in religious studies from the University of Chicago and later a Ph.D. in religion. His dissertation became his first book, The Negro’s Church, and it was the first sociological study of the black church in the United States. Dr. Mays then accepted a position at Howard University as the Dean of Religious Studies, became the President of the HBCU Morehouse College, and was a prominent leader of the civil rights movement. Dr. Mays was interested in social justice and mentored other activists including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Maynard Jackson Jr.
The Edward A. Bouchet Program is named after Edward A. Bouchet, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from any American university. A New Haven native, Dr. Bouchet was born in 1854 to formerly enslaved Yale employees. He attended New Haven High School before transferring to Hopkins School, where he graduated as valedictorian. Dr. Bouchet studied physics at Yale College and was one of the first black students to graduate from Yale in 1874. After earning his Ph.D., he was unable to secure a faculty professorship or research position due to racial discrimination. He moved to Philadelphia and taught physics and chemistry for twenty-six years at the Institute for Colored Youth (now known as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania). Afterward, he was the Director of Academics at St. Paul’s Normal and Industrial School (now known as St. Paul’s College) and retired from his positions as principal and a teacher at Lincoln High School in Ohio.
- What Disciplines Do Mellon Mays and Bouchet Fellows Study & Research?
One big difference between the two fellowship programs is the eligible fields of study. The Edward A. Bouchet Fellowship welcomes all fields of academic study, and applicants can apply regardless of nationality or citizenship status. However, applicants for the Mellon Mays Fellowship must be United States citizens or permanent resident aliens. To be a Mellon Mays Fellow, a candidate must study one of seventeen non-STEM fields. Please refer to the Yale MMUF website for the list of eligible fields of study!
- A Cohort of Five, But A Network of Thousands
Each year, a maximum of five Yale Mellon Mays Fellows and five Edward A. Bouchet Fellows are selected for the programs. The junior and senior cohorts meet together each week with Dean Lafargue, the director of both programs, and the graduate student coordinators.
The Andrew W Mellon website reports that as of 2021, there have been over 6000 MMUF fellows, and more than 1000 fellows have earned their Ph.D.s. Furthermore, over 190 MMUF fellows hold tenured faculty positions, and the majority of fellows who have completed their doctoral degrees hold or have held a professorship or position in academia. The cohorts from each member institution are small but mighty!
Five Things I Love About Being an Edward A. Bouchet Fellow!
- The Opportunity to Conduct Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research At Yale, there are significantly more opportunities to conduct STEM research than there are to do non-STEM or more interdisciplinary work. This is for a variety of reasons, but as someone who has done both independent humanities research and STEM research in a lab up on Science Hill, one factor that contributes to this discrepancy is that STEM research is usually conducted in a laboratory group setting under the supervision and direction of a PI, or a principal investigator. One thing that makes doing non-STEM research so difficult in some fields is that the research is more independent by nature. In these disciplines, such as my major Classical Civilization, undergraduate research is usually reserved for summer experiences or your senior thesis. The Mellon Mays and Bouchet Programs are so wonderful because they allow non-STEM students to perform their own research and give them the support they need to lead their projects. As a Bouchet Fellow, I have research funding, a faculty advisor, and class time each week to think more about both my research and my future. The fellowship also provides me with opportunities to present my research at conferences! Moreover, I feel comfortable reaching out to other professors and MMUF alums from other universities because of my position as a fellow. If I weren’t a fellow, I would definitely still attempt to do my research, but I would not be able to make as much progress or set aside the time, money, and opportunities that the fellowship provides me.
- Learning From & Working Closely with a Faculty Mentor Each fellow in the program selects a faculty member to advise them in their respective research. A primary focus of my research is on ancient cosmetics around the Mediterranean world and the various ways in which the female body was regulated physically and socioculturally by institutions. Though no one in the Classics Department specializes in ancient cosmetics, I have been working closely with my mentor Dr. Jessica Lamont. Professor Lamont’s teaching and research focus on Greek medicine and magic, and she is also interested in Greek archaeology and material culture. I took her course “CLCV 235: Medicine & Disease in the Ancient World” during my first year, and I reached out to ask if she would be willing to mentor me for both the fellowship and my senior thesis. She said yes! I have learned so much from Professor Lamont in our many conversations about our research interests, applications, graduate school, her path to academia, research methodologies, and so much more! I greatly appreciate having a female scholar as my mentor because she is a role model for me. I really enjoy working with Professor Lamont, and I am very excited to continue blossoming as a scholar under her guidance!
- Meeting & Making Connections with Past Fellows As previously mentioned, there is a network of over 6000 MMUF fellows. Although I am a Bouchet Fellow, since the two programs are in conjunction, I feel comfortable reaching out and connecting with previous scholars. In our chats, I enjoy hearing about their experiences and paths to where they currently are in their lives. We also have a series of alumni panels who come to our classes and share how their time in the program changed the trajectory of their lives. Meeting other scholars of color and listening to their stories resonates deeply with me. When I first started at Yale, I didn’t know that doing medical humanities research could be a viable career. Now, thanks to the Bouchet Fellowship, I’ve been able to imagine more pathways for the future than I could have ever imagined.
- Research Funding & Financial Support Another added benefit of being a Bouchet Fellow is the financial support the program provides its scholars. Last summer, I started learning ancient Greek and I received a Bouchet summer grant of $3900 to help me in this endeavor. Now, the summer research grant has expanded to $4500. Beyond the summer grant, the Bouchet and Mellon Mays programs give fellows monthly stipends, annual scholarly development funds, funding for graduate school application fees, and GRE preparation. The research funding, especially the monthly stipends, have been extremely helpful for me to prioritize my research in the chaos of classes and jobs during the semester. I’m also using my junior scholarly development fund to help me attend an academic conference!
- Conferences: Seeing What Other Current Fellows Are Doing! One of my favorite things about being a Bouchet Fellow is getting to attend the MMUF conferences and meet other fellows! In the fall, there is a Reading & Writing Symposium with pre-circulated paper sessions, intercollege thematic research groups, a program alumni panel, and a summer programming session. At my first symposium, I presented a paper and moderated a discussion, which was a great research experience for me. The questions I was asked were so insightful, and they made me more cognizant of how I explain my frameworks, methodologies, and research aims. I even connected with faculty members from other member institutions! However, one of the most beneficial parts of the conference for me was listening to what work other students were doing, even if their work wasn’t in my discipline. You never know when you’ll come across a new way of doing research or even other insights into your own work just by being present at the moment. It was so cool to stop by other sessions and listen to the research groups to learn about what other fellows were doing both at Yale and at other universities! This spring, we have the opportunity to present at the MMUF Northeast Regional Conference. I’m so excited to reconnect with some of the other fellows and faculty I had the pleasure of meeting in the fall!