Pomona Searches for Mellon-Chau Scholars

Pomona College is in the early stages of choosing two fellows for the 2014-2015 Mellon-Chau Postdoctoral Fellowship. The fellowship brings highly sought-after scholars to teach at Pomona for two years, after which the college can choose to offer them tenure-track positions.

While candidate diversity is not an official criterion in the Mellon-Chau application process, the college is interested in candidates whose teaching and knowledge address issues of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and transnational studies.

"Pomona College has not hired a self-identified member of an underrepresented group (Black, Latino/Chicano/Hispanic, Native American) into a tenure track position in six years,” wrote Nicole Weekes, Associate Dean of the College and member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Diversity (PACD), in an e-mail to TSL.

To counter this trend, the college is looking at ways to enhance faculty diversity.

“We see the Mellon-Chau scholar as just one of these many approaches,” Weekes wrote.

"I think diversity within Pomona's faculty is in part dependent on the existing faculty members, and so with tenured faculty, it takes a long time to see changes within faculty composition," said Nick Sundback PO '14, a student representative on the PACD.

More than 500 candidate applications are currently being reviewed by Pomona’s humanities and social sciences academic departments. Each department will nominate two candidates by Dec. 15.

“This is not meant to be a sabbatical replacement; this is not meant to add new courses," said Pomona Associate Dean of Students Daren Mooko. "This is meant to be exactly what it is, and that’s encouraging a young faculty member to understand what it’s like to teach at a liberal arts college."

“This is the geek part of us," Mooko said. "It’s like kids at Christmas when we look at the areas of research these folks have, and it’s such a great experience."

Once all of the nominations have been received, the Dean of College's office and the PACD will review the nominations and bring candidates to the campus for interviews.

In submitting nominations, academic departments must consider how a prospective fellow’s research experience and diversity would contribute to the college’s departments and programs.

Weekes said that she believes that one reason for promoting a diverse faculty is to facilitate the “robust exchange of ideas” among students, faculty, and staff.

“The educational process is not simply about professors [who] relay objective information to their students, but instead about the interplay of two people from different backgrounds,” Weekes said.

In conducting the search for the Mellon-Chau fellows, the college also looks at the department’s ability to mentor a new faculty member.

“When a department says, ‘Yes, we would like to have a Mellon-Chau postdoc,’ one of the things I will ask them in their paperwork is 'Tell us about your capacity to mentor a new faculty member,'” Mooko said.

Once selected, the Mellon-Chau fellows will arrive on campus in July 2014 to start their two-year terms. Sometimes, the fellows are taken on as full-time faculty members.

“A lot of it will depend on circumstances," Mooko said. "Sometimes, if all the circumstances are lined up, we might be able to offer them a full-time tenure track. Sometimes, they don’t even complete their fellowship.”

Even though fellows do not always stay at Pomona, Mooko said that he believes that some of the college’s best foundational faculty members have come from the Mellon-Chau program.

“We’re accustomed to the scholars that we bring in being pretty sought-after, so in some ways, being here two years, we can make the case for why they should teach here,” Mooko said.

The Mellon-Chau Postdoctoral Fellowship used to be called the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship until the college received long-term funding from the Chau family. Fred Chau is president of Pacific Quality Packaging Corp., and is a part of the Excellence in Teaching Awards program.