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UMass announces STEM fellowships for underrepresented groups

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus Courtesy photo



Staff writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts is funding a fellowship program for graduate students from historically underrepresented groups in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The Spaulding-Smith Fellowships will benefit 20 new graduate students, who for two years will receive full-tuition scholarships, year-round stipends, funding to present at academic conferences and mentoring. The fellowships are meant to increase diversity in fields that have historically lacked gender and racial diversity, both at UMass Amherst and across the country.

“I greatly look forward to implementing the many exciting components of the Spaulding-Smith Fellowship Program in the service of our talented STEM students from diverse backgrounds,” Funmi Adebayo, assistant dean for inclusion and engagement in the graduate school, said in a statement. “I am confident that it will help our fellows thrive as they pursue their academic and professional goals.”

Adebayo will direct the program, which is named after Major Franklin Spaulding, the first African-American student to receive a doctorate from UMass Amherst, and Elizabeth Hight Smith, the first woman to receive an advanced degree from the school.

Barbara Krauthamer, dean of the graduate school, said the program emerged from a long-running program that was previously funded with federal money and university resources.

When Krauthamer became dean a little over a year ago, those federal grants had come to an end, and she decided the university should continue the program with its own resources. Those federal grants came with stipulations on what disciplines could receive funding, but now the university can open them to more departments, she added.

“It means we can reach into STEM disciplines that had typically fallen outside the reach of the grants,” she said. “We’re taking a broad view.”

Krauthamer said the university also hopes to take a look at which groups have been underrepresented in STEM fields: people of color and women, for example, but also students with disabilities and those who are the first in their families to attend college.

STEM fields have historically been male-dominated and lacking in ethnic diversity at academic institutions across the country. At UMass Amherst, for example, there were 556 STEM faculty members in 2017; only 156 of them were female and less than a quarter were people of color, according to statistics the university provided to the Gazette.

“In so many STEM fields nationwide, women of all backgrounds are underrepresented, especially women of color,” Krauthamer said. These fellowships will hopefully contribute in correcting that, she added.

Women in STEM fields face barriers nationwide, and UMass Amherst is no different.

For example, after several sexual misconduct complaints involving faculty, the university recently commissioned a report looking at the culture in its polymer science and engineering department, where only three of 25 total faculty members are women. The study found, among other problems, “conduct antagonistic toward women.”

Krauthamer said her hope as dean is to set a high standard for inclusion and equity by supporting graduate students with the training, resources and networks needed for their success.

In the case of the Spaulding-Smith fellowships, Krauthamer said graduate students will receive professional development with the goal of improving the pipeline of students into faculty positions.

The funding will cover fellows’ first year in a doctoral program, and their last year. Krauthamer said that structure is meant to help fellows with two difficult transitions — entering into a doctoral program, and exiting into the job market.

The other years of doctoral programs, which usually last between five and seven years, will typically be covered by a particular department through funding like faculty grants or teaching assistantships, Krauthamer said.

Graduate program directors from several departments will nominate doctoral candidates for the award: the College of Natural Sciences, and the engineering, information and computer science, public health and health sciences departments. A faculty committee will then select the fellow recipients.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.