The idea for the Provost's Postdoctoral Scholars Program, which has appointed two scholars for fall 2007, originated with a Duke undergraduate.
Iman Washington recommended the program, aimed at diversifying faculty and attracting talented minorities, to Provost Peter Lange last year. There had been rumblings of such a program for years, but Washington, a graduating senior, was persistent enough to follow through.
"I sent [the Provost] an email every couple of months to ask how it was going," Washington said. She wanted to ensure the program would "bolster the percentage of minority instructors in undergraduate classes" and that they would eventually be considered for faculty positions.
"There are black faculty in other areas of the university, but undergrads don't necessarily have a lot of interaction with them outside of the Department of African and African American Studies," she said.
Washington had learned of a similar postdoctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and thought it was an ideal way to increase the number of minority faculty for undergraduates.
Less than two years later, Washington's idea has been adopted and put into action.
"She's an example of a remarkable Duke student -- energetic and full of ideas," said Nancy Allen, vice provost for faculty diversity and faculty development.
The new postdoctoral scholars program, designed by Allen; John Simon, vice provost for academic affairs; and Molly Starback, director of postdoctoral services, will offer two-year fellowships including a salary and stipend. The program seeks scholars who have potential to become tenure-track faculty at Duke or peer institutions. The scholars will conduct research and teach and mentor undergraduate students.
"The program has a double benefit. It offers an opportunity to excellent and underrepresented minorities to get the benefit of working closely with Duke faculty," Provost Peter Lange said.
"It also provides a better opportunity for Duke to identify truly promising scholars who we might recruit more easily following their postdoctoral training here," he said.
Students should be encouraged by Washington's success, evidence that student ideas are seriously considered by the administration, Lange said. The program is "a demonstration of the extent to which we appreciate hearing innovative ideas from wherever they may arise in our campus community," Lange said.
Two teachers, two mentors
For its first year, the program has admitted two women, each committed to diversity issues.
Kennetta Hammond Perry received her Ph.D. in comparative black history at Michigan State University, and currently is a research fellow at the University of Virginia's Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies.
Tina Campt, an associate professor in Duke's women's studies department, will mentor Perry as she pursues research on the migration, citizenship and transnational aspects of race politics in the post-World War II era.
Perry calls the postdoctoral program "an especially rich environment for engaging in such work because it provides a generous period" for research and will enable her to "use innovative pedagogical techniques to create a learning environment where multiple perspectives are shared, welcomed and respected."
She plans to develop African history courses that will further diversify the range of course offerings at Duke.
Gabriela "Gaby" Livas Stein will receive her doctorate in clinical child psychology in July from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This summer she will also complete a clinical internship at the University of California, San Diego. She plans to use her time at Duke to investigate psychological interventions for Latino adolescents and their families, under the mentorship of John Curry, a psychology and psychiatry professor at the medical center.
Besides providing funding for her continued training, the new program will give Livas Stein the opportunity to teach and conduct clinical research in both psychology and psychiatry, Curry said.
"If this program didn't exist, she'd have to find additional funding," he said, adding that most postdoctoral programs are just in psychiatry. The program, he said, is an ideal way to "begin an academic career that includes teaching and research in both fields."
Livas Stein also hopes to involve both undergraduate and graduate students in community work and forge a connection between Duke and El Futuro, a nonprofit Latino mental health center based in Carrboro, N.C.
"I'm most looking forward to connecting Duke to the Latino community in the Triangle," Livas Stein said.
More information on the Provost's Postdoctoral Scholars Program is available here.