As noted in the statement of its goals and objectives, Oberlin College is dedicated to “recruiting a culturally, economically, geographically, and racially diverse group of students.”College faculty, in turn, seek to provide these students with the“skills of creative thought, technique, and critical analysis,” “intensive training in the discipline of a chosen area of knowledge,” and the readiness for“advanced study and work” beyond their baccalaureate studies.
The Office of Undergraduate Research was established in 1995 to help students at the College secure paid research opportunities. The office has worked with faculty in the arts and humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences and mathematics, and the Conservatory to provide financial, administrative, and intellectual resources to a diverse group of domestic and international students. In concert with the charters of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, this office has attended to the following goal: provide resources for promising students from underrepresented groups and to encourage them to pursue Ph.D.s (and other advanced degrees), so that they may pursue careers in higher education. In 1988, with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, five students were selected as the inaugural cohort of Mellon fellows. This program's aim is to reduce “the serious under-representation on the faculties of individuals from certain minority groups, as well as to address the attendant educational consequences of these disparities.”¹ Today, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program supports students at 35 institutions and a consortium of 39 historically black colleges and universities.
In 1991, Oberlin College was awarded $800,000 to fund the BP America Fellowships in the Sciences Program. This comprehensive program was designed to increase the number of underrepresented students of color completing bachelor degrees in the natural sciences and mathematics. The program commenced with an intensive national recruitment program to identify and enroll the most promising students, and subsequently to prepare these students for graduate study in the sciences and mathematics. The main component of this program was a four-week, pre-orientation program held on Oberlin's campus. BP fellows arrived early on campus, in order to meet and work with Oberlin faculty in the natural sciences and mathematics. During that time, BP fellows also became familiar with Oberlin's scientific research procedures and support facilities, and they received support from a peer mentor network of students majoring in the natural sciences and mathematics. At the conclusion of this award, in 1995, the Oberlin College Science Scholars program was established to continue the spirit of the BP America Fellowships in the Sciences Program. Eligibility at that time was extended to include first-generation college students of all ethnicities. In the final cohort selection process (2000), international students expressing an interest in mathematics and science were included in the pre-orientation program.
In 1995, the office secured the first of 12 years of generous support from the U.S. Department of Education for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. This support sponsored ten new students each year for two summers' worth of research and professional development workshops. In accordance with McNair federal guidelines, no less than two-thirds of the participants had to be from low-income families and first-generation college students. The remaining participants were from groups that are underrepresented in graduate education.² To date, four Oberlin McNair alumni have earned Ph.D.s, 13 have earned master's degrees, and another 34 are enrolled in graduate or professional school. In addition, two have earned medical degrees and four have earned law degrees.
The Oberlin College Research Fellowship Program was established in 2008. Like the McNair Program, which concluded in 2007, this program continues to draw its applicants from low-income families, first-generation students, and students underrepresented in graduate studies. Each year, ten students are provided with generous stipends for two summers' worth of mentored research.
¹ From the mission statement of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
² From the eligibility conditions, listed at the web site of the US Department of Education.