July 16, 2008

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gives $700,000 to increase Alaska Native Ph.D.s


The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will give $700,000 to the University of Alaska Fairbanks over the next five years to provide financial support to students in the dissertation writing phase of their doctoral programs. The aim of this gift is to increase the number of Native students earning doctoral degrees.

"The Mellon Foundation's total commitment to eradicating disparities in our Ph.D. faculty and students goes beyond benefiting UAF," said Chancellor Steve Jones. "This is an opportunity that impacts our entire state, because educational attainment is closely related to economic and political prosperity for Native peoples. We are proud of our convergent goals and of the strong partnership we share with the Mellon Foundation."

The "Dissertation Fellowship Program for Alaska Native Scholars and Others Committed to the Advancement of Indigenous Alaskan History and Culture" will fund up to four competitive graduate fellowships for doctoral students in the dissertation-writing phase this fall. Recipients are eligible to receive a $30,000 stipend, research and travel funds in addition to tuition and fees.

"This is extremely important in having a national foundation support Alaska Native education, especially in a public institution," said Bernice Joseph, vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education.

The academic and public benefits will be especially apparent in the areas of language, culture and leadership, said Joseph. "To be able to have public materials, articles and [a] curriculum that are focused on Alaska Natives from an Alaska Native point of view would be incredible."

"The Mellon Foundation's thoughtful gift allows UAF to become a national leader in assisting scholars interested in the advancement of Indigenous Alaskan history and culture to complete their doctoral degrees" said Bryan Brayboy, president's professor of education at UAF, and a member of the program's advisory board. "This is an important and timely award, and UAF is ideally positioned to complete this important work."

The need for programs like this is vital across the United States where there is significant under-representation of indigenous peoples on the faculties of colleges and universities, and UAF is no exception, said Brayboy. In Alaska, Native peoples comprise close to 20 percent of the state's population and 16 percent of the student body, but they hold only three percent of faculty positions. Lack of educational credentials is often cited as contributing to this scarcity.

With this support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, UAF is poised to increase not only the number of Alaska Native students who graduate with doctoral degrees, but to address the underlying social, economic and educational factors that have been shown to inhibit completion of the dissertation. In doing so, UAF has the opportunity to assist rural Native communities in Alaska in meeting their educational, economic and political goals.

The award was preceded by a $40,000 planning grant provided by the Mellon Foundation in 2007. In addition to funding from Mellon, the program is also supported by $500,000 in matching funds from UAF, plus additional fundraising.

Professional development opportunities for fellowship students will focus on sessions to learn how to prepare for conference presentations, grant-writing and writing for publication, successfully completing doctoral dissertations, as well as the tenure and promotion process. The program will also offer mentoring activities in indigenous studies and leadership, and salary support for the program's faculty members.

The funding is designed to provide support to increase the number of Alaska Native faculty members. Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's grant-making philosophy is to build, strengthen and sustain institutions and their core capacities, developing long-term collaborations with grant recipients to accomplish their goals and achieve meaningful results.

CONTACT: Bryan Brayboy, President's Professor of Education at 907-474-7778 or via e-mail at ffbb@uaf.edu, or Judyth Wier, associate vice chancellor for development at 907-474-5750 or via e-mail at j.wier@uaf.edu.

ON THE WEB: www.mellon.org

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