Monday, August 4, 2014

Mellon Scholars Program: Tools for Success

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

My name is Michael Dickinson, and I am a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Delaware. I recently had the pleasure to serve as the graduate research advisor for the Mellon Scholars Program alongside Program Director Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar and LCP Curator Krystal Appiah. During the third week of June, the program held a week-long workshop for a select group of students interested in research and graduate study in African American history, literature, and library science. Workshop participants attended an array of professional development seminars intended to explain and familiarize students with the graduate school application process including drafting a successful personal statement and curriculum vitae, applying for academic funding, selecting recommenders, and graduate school admission procedures.  Moreover, workshop activities familiarized students with tools for success at the graduate level including time management, writing sophistication, and the utility of academic mentorship.

Menika Dirkson, Maria Esther Hammack, Harvey Long, Jessica
 Wicks, Sherri Cummings, Kwasi Agyemang, Michael Dickinson,
JaMarcus Underwood, Tasha Martinez, and Leroy Jones, Jr.
The two sessions I led were dedicated to navigating graduate school and editing a personal statement. I was truly impressed at the engagement and enthusiasm of the participants. "How should I approach the large amount of reading material required in graduate school?" "How do I make my personal statement stand out?" "What challenges should we expect in graduate school?" These were just a few of the questions I received. Clearly the students were eager to learn and full of curiosity. Over the course of the week, I also led the group on a number of trips to historical resources beyond the Library Company, including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, MotherBethel A.M.E. Church, and Temple University's Blockson Afro-American Collection.

Harrison Graves, Maria Esther Hammack, Jessica Wicks, Kwasi Agyemang,
and Blockson archivist Leslie Willis-Lowry at the Charles L. Blockson
Afro-American Collection at Temple University
On each of these excursions, Mellon Scholars could be found eagerly taking notes or photographs. Each of the locations was chosen as an institution likely to aid in the participants' intellectual and academic development. Throughout the week, students became increasingly aware of the depth of historical resources for early African American history held at the Library Company and throughout Philadelphia.

The program hosted a number of research presentations to provide students with opportunities to engage in formal scholarly discourse. The Mellon Scholars briefly conducted research at the Library Company as well in order to gain experience researching in archival collections. Each participant was given a topic supported by primary source material held at the Library Company. Specifically, each Scholar was assigned a historical African American figure or organization along with a larger theme to examine for the exercise. For example, one student was assigned African American activist Octavius Catto as a window into early black political activity. With the assistance of the LCP and Mellon Scholars Program staff, the students were able to uncover valuable source material.  Participants then presented their findings in a conference-style format on the final day of the workshop. The presentations were both engaging and impressive, especially given the limited time students had had to conduct archival research. The quality of the final projects as well as the enthusiasm demonstrated by the students throughout the week surely attested to their excitement for the program, passion for early African American studies, and gratitude for the opportunity to research at the Library Company of Philadelphia. It was truly my pleasure to work with such a talented and passionate group of students through the Mellon Scholars Program.

Michael Dickinson
Mellon Scholars Graduate Research Advisor, Summer 2014

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