“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity. We believe that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom to be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive”. This is the official mission statement of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Founded in 1969 New York, The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Foundation (MMUF) works to fund organizations rooted in higher learning, arts and culture, public knowledge, and the humanities. In August, CUNY received a $10 million gift from them to help serve 25 campuses and further spread MMUF’s message.
$10 million is the largest donation CUNY has received in the 45 years it has worked with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The funds will be allocated to help support the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Foundation, which provides scholarships to historically underrepresented students in order to help advance their unique research interests in the humanities, as well as to obtain PhDs. Vallarie Wallace, the former Editor in Chief of The Knight News and Valedictorian of the class of 2020 was a proud Mellon Mays fellow. MMUF gave her the resources she needed to have a successful undergraduate experience and led her to receiving a full scholarship to the University of Virginia where she is currently pursuing a doctorate in English. The $10 million donation will also contribute to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund. The Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund was formed this year to help students experiencing financial difficulties during the pandemic.
Emily Ram, a senior English major and MMUF Fellow at QC, said: “The Mellon Mays Foundation at Queens College aids students through their original developed research projects while preparing students for graduate school. The Mellon Mays Foundation has given me the chance, as an English major, to develop my own research in young adult contemporary literature.” In regards to the award that CUNY got from the Mellon foundation she stated that “With the funds that the Andrew Mellon Foundation is providing, I can extend my research by expanding my scope with multidisciplinary theories in order to provide an more in-depth research project that thinks outside of close reading solely. I will also get to use these funds to visit other states with exclusive databases that have books I am not allowed to order online. By being able to use the funds to extend my research, I can provide an elaborated project which will not only enhance the project itself but also help me get into graduate school”.
Professor Barbara Simerka, QC’s MMUF coordinator was “relieved that the Mellon funds allowed CUNY to mitigate some of the most dire impacts of COVID related state and city budget cuts. I anticipate that the initiatives for reimagining teaching in the Humanities and for rethinking area studies and ethnic studies programs will support the goal of further diversifying our curricula across departments. QC’s course offerings are fairly robust in that area, but new lines of inquiry are always emerging and these initiatives will help QC and CUNY to continue to serve as national leaders in education for social justice. The grant announcement specifically mentions support for future hiring in Black and ethnic studies. Tenure track positions have consistently decreased over my 18 years at CUNY. This has impacted MMUF students, whose program of preparation requires working with full time faculty mentors who are actively engaged in research in fields related to diversity and social justice. I hope that this grant will provide all future QC students with more opportunities to interact with and be inspired by faculty in area and ethnic studies, and that Mellon fellows will have a larger pool of mentors to draw from”.
Chancellor Matos Rodríguez recently sent out an email to all CUNY students about a town hall meeting on September 17th to share ideas for a $3 million initiative to reimagine and further develop CUNY programs in Black, race and ethnic studies, a key aspect of the University’s commitment to inclusion”. He further shared that “the Mellon Foundation grant will provide funding for a planning period that will be (driven) by a commission of internal and external experts, who will assess current program offerings and recommend innovations that build on them”.