Clark Diversity Graduate Fellowship program
Initiatives to foster a diverse and inclusive campus culture − one of Binghamton University’s five Road Map to Premier strategic priorities − will build in part on Binghamton University’s well-established Clifford D. Clark Graduate Fellowship Program for Diversity, which provides newly admitted graduate students merit-based fellowships accompanied by a full array of support.
The program, which includes academic-year stipends, full-tuition scholarships and opportunities for research, supports eligible, full-time students who meet one or more of the following criteria:
• member of historically under-represented groups, including African-American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or Hispanic-American
• raised in a single-parent household
• first-generation college student
• history of overcoming disadvantage
Diversity is broadly defined for the purposes of these fellowships, including efforts to diversify female dominated fields such as nursing, to expand opportunities for students who are facing economic hardships, members of the LGBT community, as well as first-generation college and underrepresented (UREP) students. But the program is merit-based and highly competitive, said Florence Margai, associate dean of the Graduate School. “You have to be academically strong and well-rounded to be able to get in.” Applications are accompanied by departmental nominations, and these are thoroughly vetted by a faculty advisory board.
More than 400 Clark Fellows have graduated from the program since its inception about two decades ago. Approximately a third of them have been in the STEM disciplines and the rest in the social sciences, humanities and professional schools, said Margai. About 80 percent of the funding is directed toward doctoral students, while the remaining 20 percent supports master’s level students.
In addition to educating students to pursue a wide range of careers, Margai said the program’s goal is to diversify the professoriate. “It’s about intellectual diversity, on the one hand, but also broadening the demographic composition of our departments and the campus as a whole, and ultimately the professoriate, so fellows can transition into academic careers and become faculty role models,” she said.
With more than 50 current Clark Fellows, the University funds as many new students each year as possible and mentors them, through the Graduate Community of Scholars (GCOS) and other programs, to help insure their success. Collaborative efforts with other diversity programs on campus, including the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN), the SUNY Alliance for Graduate Education for the Professoriate (NSF-AGEP), and the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) have resulted in high retention and graduation rates. The degree completion rate for Clark Fellows is high (68 percent) and in many disciplines, their time to degree is comparable to their counterparts. These achievements, along with high graduation rates for undergraduate UREP students (72.5 percent for African-Americans and 73.3 percent for Hispanic Americans compared to 78 percent overall), places Binghamton on par with the top 5 public research institutions serving similar students as determined by the Education Trust.
Students accepted into the Clark program receive funding based on their level at enrollment. Those who enter a doctoral program with just a bachelor’s degree receive 5 years of funding and those with master’s degrees receive 3 years of funding, no matter what the discipline. While completing their degrees, the students attend workshops that revolve around four themes: Planning, Resilience, Engagement and Professionalism, said Margai. “Along with helping them succeed in their field of study, our goal is to broaden their career pathways. So for STEM Clark fellows – who tend to end up in industry – we offer a co-teaching experience (partly NSF-funded), by pairing the fellows with a faculty member. These students co-teach a course, from syllabus preparation to delivery and evaluation, giving them a full teaching experience. Many of these students are now in post-doctoral positions and appointments in academia.”
Dandrielle Lewis is one such success. A spring 2011 graduate with a PhD in mathematics, she participated in the co-teaching pilot project and now holds a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.
Another success story belongs to Denise Yull, now an assistant professor of human development at Binghamton, teaching courses on the politics of education, youth and social policy, social justice and research methods. She has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from SUNY Buffalo and earned her master’s in mathematics from Binghamton. In 2012, she graduated from Binghamton again, this time with her doctorate in education.
Yet another successful Clark Fellow, Quincy Loney graduated in 2012 with a doctoral degree in mathematics and participated in the co-teaching program. Now teaching at SUNY Cortland, Loney has written that he would not have been able to complete his education and pursue a career in academe without the aid of the Clark Fellowship.
Paulette Steeves, a Native American, expects to complete her doctorate at Binghamton in the coming year. She applies her research to the work of re-linking contemporary Native American and Indigenous peoples to their ancient ancestral places, landscapes and times through research in Pleistocene archaeology. “The support of the Clark Fellowship means much more to me than securing a professional career,” she has written. “It allows me to address destructive historic events that are at the heart of a lingering intergenerational trauma and illness that many Native American and indigenous communities struggle under. … I am extremely grateful for the support of the Clifford D. Clark Fellowship … and to those who recognize the importance, value and the academic need for diversity.”
Finally, Tara Betts, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Loyola University Chicago and New England College, respectively, is working toward her doctorate in creative writing as a Clark Fellow at Binghamton. As a volunteer tutor for the Binghamton University Writing Initiative, she demonstrates one aspect of what is expected of Clark Fellows – to be engaged on campus.
Binghamton’s Clark Fellows program is one of many Graduate Diversity Fellowship Programs (GDFP) in the SUNY system; there is one at each SUNY University Center. “It’s challenging to recruit for the Binghamton program because of where we are located, but we’re holding our own because of who we are and the excellence that we bring to the table,” explained Margai. “It also boils down to funding. Along with the state funding and ongoing support from the institution, we seek external sources of funding to support these initiatives. We are proactive in recruiting these students, and work closely with departments to ensure their success, and placement upon timely completion of their academic program of study.”