College of Liberal Arts receives Mellon grant

The newly established Department of Mexican American and Latina/o studies received a $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to establish an undergraduate fellowship.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program seeks to assist prospective graduate students pursue academic research in fields other than law, medicine or other professional graduate programs.

“The grant will train new cohorts of first-generation students to become the academic and intellectual leaders of the nation,” said Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. “That we were entrusted to be the custodians of this stellar program is both an honor and a privilege.” 

Rising sophomores from underrepresented minorities with a GPA of 3.0 or better may apply to become a fellow by submitting three letters of reference, two essays and an application. 

Richard Flores, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts, said the fellowship attempts to diversify the “pipeline” of applicants to faculty level positions.

“When we look at hiring faculty, a lot of times there just aren’t faculty in particular disciplines that come from diverse backgrounds,” Flores said.

Flores said universities do not often have diverse candidates when hiring new faculty members.

“It’s not that participants may not want to hire faculty who are diverse; it’s the fact that there are not many people out there,” Flores said. “Programs like this help increase the number of graduate students who come from diverse backgrounds and those students eventually go on to faculty positions.”

Darcy Rendón, fourth-year Latin American history Ph.D. student at UT, began as a Mellon Fellow as an undergraduate at Smith College. As a fellow, Rendón was able to conduct archival research in Mexico. 

“This program allowed me to say, ‘Hey, I could do that if I wanted to,’” Rendón said. 

Rendón said the fellowship taught her how to be a scholar, apply for grants and adapt to the academic culture.

“Once a Mellon — always a Mellon,” Rendón said. “Without Mellon Mays, I wouldn’t be here in graduate school today. They teach you all the inner workings of academia when you’re an undergrad so that, when you go to graduate school, you hit the ground running,”