The LSA Collegiate Fellows Program, a postdoctoral fellowship launched as part of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, has announced its second cohort for the 2018-2020 fellowship. The nine new fellows are distinguished scholars in fields ranging from history and physics to screen arts and culture.
In 2016, LSA partnered with the National Center of Institutional Diversity to implement the fellows hip, accepting scholars first and foremost for their academic excellence, but also for their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through their research, teaching or service. This year alone, more than 900 scholars applied. When selecting fellows, LSA departments looked for applicants who demonstrated academic excellence and exhibited high potential to be engaging, passionate teachers.
Fiona Lee, the new LSA associate dean of diversity, equity, inclusion and professional development, commented on the selection process by academic departments in an email interview, highlighting questions departments might ask in choosing fellows.
“Each academic department reviewed applicants using their regular criteria for evaluating any faculty candidate: is their research excellent, impactful, and innovative?” Lee wrote. “Are they exemplary teachers who can convey cutting-edge knowledge effectively to students and inspire them to learn more? Have they been active participants and leaders in their academic units?”
Although the fellowship places an emphasis on DEI values, scholars do not have to be studying or implementing DEI in their research. Luis Zaman, a member of the first cohort who works with the LSA Departments of Complex Systems and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, cares deeply about diversity but said he does not necessarily apply it to his scientific research.
“I’ve always had a very strong value for DEI related issues,” Zaman said. “And I think that’s what they’re looking for, they’re not necessarily looking for someone who has done DEI research. By having this cohort of people, we’re all really close. And a lot of them do study DEI related issues. So having a scholarly approach to something I know about and care about and affects me, but I maybe don’t think about the same way they do, it’s just pretty awesome. DEI is important to me and it’s something that I try to move forward with everything I do and all the people I would hire, but it’s not a primary goal of my research.”
SaraEllen Strongman, a member of the 2018 cohort who received her doctorate in Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and will be joining the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, found the program while searching for postdoctoral fellowships. Strongman was attracted to the program’s investment in DEI values and agreed the fellowship’s devotion to diversity would change the way incoming faculty are recruited.
“A program that has these stated values is the only way you’re going to attract a pool of people who are invested in inclusion and diversity,” Strongman said. “You’re going to get people who are deeply invested in those things and who will help you transform and create an environment at the university that is conducive to those things, so that everyone is on the same page for that sort of mission. Which is hard to do at any university. So being able to bring a chunk of people each year who are going to do that, that’s huge, across all these different departments from astronomy to political science to history, that’s amazing.”
The program will be beneficial not only to the postdocs accepted, but also to the students who will have the chance to learn from accomplished scholars who as a group have a broadened viewpoint on diversity. Strongman is excited about upcoming teaching opportunities and developing more inclusivity at the University through classes, in addition to learning more about her fellow scholars and their research.
“I am looking forward to teaching Michigan’s incredible undergraduates,” Strongman said. “And being a part of a really vibrant and exciting group of scholars … and to have the opportunity to get to know and be in conversation with the other fellows both in my cohort and in the prior cohort. Because that’s having an already-existing community of people who are invested in having inclusive classrooms and doing work that can expand how we think about history and who we think is important and how we run a college, how we run a classroom, something that’s really important to me and having other people there to talk about it with will be great.”
As university leaders realize the importance of diversity within teaching staff, LSA plans to recruit 50 scholars in five years through the program. Lee is encouraged by the immense interest generated in the past two years and expects a continual flow of engaging and creative fellows. She hopes many of the fellows will go on to become faculty members, where they will continue to make a positive impact on campus. Improving diversity and inclusion among faculty members is a major goal not just for the University, but for universities across the country.
“The Fellows are world-class researchers, scholars, and intellectual leaders who have a proven track record of helping their colleagues, students, and neighbors thrive, regardless of their cultural, socio-economic, national, gender, or racial/ethnic backgrounds,” Lee wrote. “The LSA Collegiate Fellows are future faculty leaders of U-M. This program ensures that Michigan continues to be the premiere university to provide a world-class education for all students, and lead other institutions by example.”
Zaman is optimistic about the future of the fellowship, especially after his first year in the program. He highlighted the significance of DEI in education, and said the program is essential for further implementation of diversity in universities and the academic community.
“I think it’s just a realization that the people doing research at the top universities and the people going to college look very different,” Zaman said. “The more perspectives you have working on a problem the better the outcomes are going to be. And I think universities are having a hard time getting those perspectives. So this is one program that’s starting from the ground up and it’s really important.”
Strongman agreed and believes the program will have a positive impact at the entire university.
“I can say that I am very optimistic about the impact that this program will have all across the college,” Strongman said. “Just the number of departments will not only bring really talented, brilliant researchers, but also some really incredible teachers who are going to have a profound impact upon students at Michigan. And being a part of that is very humbling and exciting.”