Launching Careers and Widening the Discourse: TC’s Minority Postdoctoral Program at 20
Monique Lane came to New York two years ago after having just completed her Ph.D. in Urban Schooling and her M.Ed. in Urban Education at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. As a Teachers College Minority Postdoctoral Fellow, she has had a rich and varied experience, but for Christopher Emdin, the bottom line is this:
“Monique came here with a deep commitment to working on the needs of girls of color, which have been largely ignored,” says Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education, who has served on the program’s selection committee. “At TC, she’s published papers, she’s worked with IUME [the College’s Institute for Urban & Minority Education] to hold a major conference, she’s received some coaching on how navigate the academic world – and this coming fall, she’ll start a tenure track position” at St. Mary’s College of California.
“To me, that narrative, right there, is the value of the program,” says Emdin. “We’ve helped launch a respected, highly regarded young scholar of color whose work has immense potential.”
Teachers College will highlight many features and beneficial consequences of the Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship when it marks the Fellowship’s 20th anniversary on March 3rd. (Click here to view the program’s 20th anniversary website.) But the biggest success stories by far are the program’s alumni, more than half of whom will be in attendance. (Read stories about the program’s two inaugural postdoctoral fellows, Cally Waite, now Associate Professor of History & Education, and Paul Green, now Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Riverside.)
“We’ve had truly exceptional people come here, and they’ve gone on to do amazing work,” says selection committee member Janice Robinson, TC’s Vice President for Diversity & Community Affairs. The 30-plus former TC postdocs include two college deans and several department heads; the holder of an endowed chair at a major state university; a policy analyst at the World Bank; the owner of a leading communications company; and four current TC faculty members. (Minority postdocs are not offered a faculty position at TC after completing their fellowship, but may apply for a nationally advertised faculty position, if one becomes available.) Their work has encompassed a broad range of fields and pursuits, from teaching incarcerated youth to helping young students of color see themselves as math scholars, to exploring the psychological and emotional impact of growing up Muslim in post-9/11 America.
The groundwork for the Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship was laid more than 30 years ago when then-TC President P. Michael Timpane and the deans of three other education schools founded the Holmes Group. The initiative grew to include more than 100 education school deans at research universities committed to the reform of teacher education and the teaching profession. One goal of the Holmes Group was to increase recruitment and retention of diverse faculty from underrepresented groups.
Minority Postdoctoral Fellow Spotlights
- Creating New Narratives: Lalitha Vasudevan
- Responding to Students' Cultural Orientations: Eric Hurley
- Focusing on the Under-Represented: Rosalie Rolón Dow
- Lives in the Crosshairs: Arshad Ali Explores the identity of Muslim youth growing up under surveillance
- Telling a Uniquely American Story: Cally Waite
- Keeping a Global Perspective: Paul Green
When Karen Zumwalt became TC’s Dean in July 1995, she had already spent years working on the Holmes Group agenda as a TC faculty member. Zumwalt – now Evenden Professor Emerita – was eager to advance the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty across all programs. One of her first initiatives was to explore with faculty the idea of creating a minority postdoctoral program, much like ones being offered by some educational foundations, for non-TC doctoral graduates interested in pursuing an academic career. The Fellowship would provide a stipend, housing, a mentor and the opportunity to teach a graduate course and work on writing and research. After a national search, TC’s first two minority postdocs, Waite and Green, were hired 20 years ago this spring.
“We were not just interested in increasing the diversity of our own faculty, but also in creating a more diverse pool of faculty for all graduate schools of education,” Zumwalt recalls. “Even more broadly, we were responding to the fact that teachers and administrators in our nation’s public schools were predominantly White, although more and more students were not. We saw this fellowship not just as good for the postdocs and TC, but as our contribution to the profession.”
The meaning of terms such as “minority” and “diversity” have expanded over the past two decades, so the former postdocs returning to TC in March will discuss the Fellowship’s future direction, including whether the program’s name is due for a change.
“We shouldn’t have to define people as ‘minorities’ – we should celebrate them for who they are,” says Yvonne Destin, Director of Student Development and Activities, who serves on the College’s Affirmative Action Committee. “But at the same time, this program is all about TC’s commitment to representing underrepresented communities and closing a gap in academia.”
Whatever the program is called, Thomas James, TC’s Provost and Dean, says its selection criteria will likely remain unchanged.
“We want to welcome faculty of color into higher education,” says James. “We give consideration especially to candidates who are either members of a federally recognized U.S. racial/ethnic minority group or have a federally recognized disability. We also take into account a range of other factors related to increasing diversity at the College, such as socioeconomic background, research and teaching goals that emphasize diversity, and first-generation college graduates. But that’s not a loophole for opening this program to just anyone, because that would defeat one of its more critical purposes.” Applicants also must be U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents.
“I’m proud of the Fellowship, because it demonstrates our conception of what an academic community is all about, and it’s affected our academic goals.” James says. “For all that the Fellowship has helped our postdocs, they’ve also had a considerable impact on TC. New funds of knowledge have been brought into the institution, new questions have been asked, new disciplinary perspectives have been seeded. There’s still a need for that, just as much as there was 20 years ago.”
Destin adds that the Fellows have been a particularly valuable resource for TC’s students.
“Many of the postdocs have only just graduated themselves, so they have a lot of energy for working with students, hosting talks and events,” she says. “As a result, the students have really embraced them.”
The upcoming 20th anniversary gathering, while a celebration of all that’s been accomplished, will also look to the future.
“TC was at the forefront in creating this program 20 years ago, and we felt it was time to take it to a new level,” says Associate Provost Kristine Roome, who coordinates the Fellows program and chairs the selection. “Year after year, we welcome young scholars into our community for a year or two, and then – save for the special few who have stayed on our faculty – they go out into the world. But now we are starting to think about the program more collectively. We realized that we have this network of accomplished individuals out there who all had their start here at TC, and they constitute a wonderful resource for our current fellows, our students and our junior faculty. And we started to wonder, what it would be like if we brought them all home to TC to meet one another, to meet our community, and to think about the purpose of the program by engaging collectively in the conversations that are happening on campuses across the country. We are not sure where it’s going to go. All we know is that it’s time.”
Emdin, who will be performing at the celebration in March with a group of high school students, says the event itself also speaks volumes about the Fellowship. “Having these folks come back to engage academically, to interact with young people – it’s an exemplar of what should always happen. It showcases that you don’t just come here for the fellowship and then leave – you become a part of a community, you come back and we continue to celebrate you. And it showcases TC as a place that welcomes daring, nontraditional work, and does it well. An event like this is why TC is my home.” – Joe Levine
Published Wednesday, Feb 17, 2016