Oberlin Blogs

Make It or Break It Week: The Mellon Chronicles

December 5, 2013

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

Earlier this week one of my posse mates asked me if I was ready because it is "make it or break it week." It is only one week into December and everyone is pushing towards the end of the semester and while I cannot believe that time is flying by this quickly, I am certainly ready for winter break and next semester. The funny thing about my friend's question is that every week at Oberlin is make it or break it in the sense that I have to constantly put in serious work towards that GPA and still manage a social life, work and everything else. However, the critical moment that my friend and I are talking about is the impending announcement of the new Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Cohort.

In case you are not familiar with Mellon, it is a wonderful fellowship that allows for underrepresented students of color to engage in undergraduate research in a variety of academic fields. On top of all the amazing support you get from the fellowship, it really prepares students to establish themselves for graduate school and attaining a PhD. I will definitely blog more about Mellon in the near future but feel free to check out them out if you are dying to know more.

Nearly two months ago, I decided to be the kind of Oberlin student that does super amazing, impactful and impressive research. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when that application came off the printer and into my hands, but I can tell you now that Mellon has become incredibly significant to me. In trying to craft my research proposal, I had to introspect and really get to the basics of who I am, what I love and what matters to me as a person and as a scholar. And that process is definitely easier said than done. It took a lot of sleepless nights, tons of drafted personal statements, phone calls, texts, google docs, a couple missed assignments and several conversations with professors to finally get to a finished application. The Mellon process is by no means easy, personally, I really had to reach out to my team to support me in doing something as large as this. Yet, despite my doubts about whether this is really my time or not, decisions were placed in our OCMRs today and my anticipation finally peaked.

As I walked down the hall in Wilder to my mailbox, I thought about turning around. I knew that I was going to get a letter from somebody either saying congratulations or thanks for trying, but I wanted to objectively blog about my experience first but the many texts and emails from friends who had already checked was just too much, and somehow I finally ended up in front of my OCMR. Semi-magically, two of my posse mates showed up and asked me if I had opened my letter yet. As my stomach started turning backflips, I finally did my combination and dragged out the letter with my handwritten name. Nervous and anxious beyond belief, I opened the envelope praying for good news. To be completely honest, I missed everything that letter said before and after congratulations, you are a Mellon Fellow! I got a tear in my eye while telling my posse mates and we had a group hug. The amount of pure happiness that I felt in that moment is so surreal that I cannot even begin to express how accomplished I feel to have done this. I have known for hours now and it still is not sinking in, so forgive me for it now, but I will blog a few more times about Mellon and the new things it brings to light for me on this journey.

However, what is really important for me to do in this moment is to acknowledge my team for the significant role they play in my life, because honestly, anything that I have ever done has been because somebody else was by my side pushing me to go after what I want. I have so much love and support in my life and it is only right that my folks be recognized for all that they have done, indirectly and directly, so here it goes. To my Posse, thank you for encouraging me to do this and to push myself beyond what I feel comfortable doing. You all have really helped me grow, and though I do not say it often, I love you for making me a better person. To all my friends/everyone/random people in the street who heard me complain about getting through that application, thank you. It was not easy and I had to miss a lot of special events and times because I needed to focus, but for everyone who stuck with me, thank you. Lastly, to everyone that read my app, gave me feedback or anything, you are amazing and loved as well. To wrap this long s/o up, just thank you everyone who is down for me because I would not be where I am if you did not play a role in helping me get here. I have so much love for people who love and support me so know that you are appreciated!

Finally, I do promise to write more posts in the soon to be titled "Mellon Chronicles" about my actual project, research interest, cool things I find out about being a "researcher" and my Mellon journey in general. To kill sudden anticipation though, I will tell you that I did go back to basics and reconnected with my mentoring and educating roots for my research and found a way to weave in my Africana Studies and Sociology majors as well. My personal view is that I am doing something impactful for my community back home as well as for my larger African American community in unpacking my experiences. I am taking on a lot and it will be challenging, but it has already been so rewarding and I will do my best to share all of my knowledge with you all :)

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