DIVERSIFYING ACADEMIA – BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN RESEARCH AND UNDERREPRESENTED STUDENTS

Andrea Brink

Emory University has been a leader in undergraduate research for decades, in large part thanks to the plethora of funding and mentoring opportunities available to its students, as well as the extensive support of programs such as the Scholarly Inquiry and Research Experience (SIRE) and independent research grants in the humanities, arts, and sciences. These programs help identify students with brilliant ideas and give them the resources to initiate and maintain groundbreaking research projects. However, throughout the expansive history of research conducted at Emory—as well as at comparable higher education institutions—the vast majority of celebrated and prestigious studies have been those conducted by disproportionately wealthy, white, and male researchers, when historically many of the most important contributions to the arts and sciences have stemmed from researchers across the divisions of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

This critical deficiency in the accessibility of research is being combatted through Emory’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program, which both provide funding and mentorship to minority students with outstanding research proposals to foster racial, cultural, and gender diversity in undergraduate research. Not only do these programs aim to address concerns for equity and social justice in research opportunities, but they also seek to broaden and diversify the pool of Emory researchers that are prepared to address contemporary needs in the arts and sciences. This variety of background and perspective provides invaluable insight across all disciplines of study and allows for a more realistic and well-rounded assessment of current issues in the arts and sciences alike.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF) has a remarkable seventeen-year history at Emory University, during which time the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has funded the research initiatives of 67 underrepresented minority students. The MMUF Program is open to Rising Juniors who demonstrate a commitment to the goal of increasing the presence of African American, Latino, and Native American students and researchers at Emory. Additionally, applicants must have a focus on disciplines within the social sciences and humanities in order to ensure that social science research at Emory, which is heavily rooted in perspectives of culture and society, is informed by a multicultural and heterogenous viewpoint.

The Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), a program funded by the National Institutes of Health, emphasizes participation in the biomedical and behavioral sciences through a rigorous two-year academic program. The IMSD curriculum is constructed around the core components of multi-level mentoring, independent research, and career preparation. The program is open to undergraduate students from socially, culturally, economically, or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds who are interested in research in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, or natural sciences. Within scientific fields, specifically, it is evident there is no research or application which is acultural or universal; to assume a white, upper class, or male perspective as the default during research is to erase the lived experience of the vast majority of people. Thus, by encouraging and enabling students from diverse backgrounds to spearhead and explore research in these fields, the IMSD program brings urgently needed perspectives to the forefront of undergraduate research at Emory.

In addition to the aforementioned resources, the IMSD program provides an extensive list of diversity recourses and references; visit Emory's Initiative for Maximizing Student Development page for more information, as well as application instructions and relevant deadlines. Further reading about the MMUF Program, including current fellows, alumni, and applications, can be found on the Emory Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program page.