Dissertation Fellowships Program Draws Graduate Students with Diverse Interests

Since 1991, the Dissertation Fellowships program has been providing a few select graduate students per year with support and resources to help finish their dissertations. 

Three fellowships – named after Cesar Chavez, Charles Eastman, and Thurgood Marshall – are awarded annually to graduate students who have produced high-quality research, who demonstrate a commitment to increasing opportunities for underrepresented minorities, and who have the potential to serve as mentors for undergraduate students.

The Dissertation Fellows program is administrated by Sandy Spiegel, Director of Recruiting and Diversity in the Graduate Studies Office, with the assistance of a faculty committee. The committee includes Colin Calloway, Deborah King, Celia Naylor, Silva Spitta, Keith Walker, and Dale Turner, and is committed to the goal of increasing the diversity of the professorate. Their expertise encompasses a wide range of academic area including Native American Studies, Sociology, History, Comparative Literature, AAAS, LALACS, and French and Italian.

This program provides outstanding graduate students with financial support, housing, and contact with top-notch faculty in their field. Other draws for students who apply are Dartmouth's extensive library system, the archives of the Hood Museum, and the opportunity to spend a year in a quiet place where they can get their work done. While on campus, the students provide each other with support and motivation to finish their dissertations, forming a writing group that meets on a regular basis. Current Chavez Fellow Albert Sergio Laguna explains, "For me, the most important part is getting into a 'writing rhythm.' The Cesar Chavez Fellowship has given me the opportunity to get into a routine that has been highly conducive to writing." Another key element of the program is the mentoring experience, in which each fellow is paired with a faculty advisor who acts as their mentor throughout the fellow's year at Dartmouth.

In return, the fellows provide a variety of benefits to the college: many come directly from doing field work and are able to provide the results of up-to-the-minute research to the programs with which they are affiliated. In addition, they are key role models for undergraduate students, particularly minority students. The fellows hold panel discussions and have open office hours, teach as guest lecturers in undergraduate courses, and get involved in campus groups such as La Alianza Latina, NAD, the World Music Percussion Ensemble, and many more. As the Fellowship Program coordinator, Sandy Spiegel, explained, "Students need role models in order to be successful. They need someone to show them that it's possible." This is particularly important for first-generation students, who are unlikely to have anyone at home who can give them advice about graduate school.

Although other institutions offer similar fellowship programs, those who are selected agree that Dartmouth's is one of the best, due to its extensive resources and the close mentoring relationship that the students develop with faculty in their departments. Dissertation fellows come from a wide variety of locations – from NYU to Argentina – and most continue on in the academic sphere. In fact, 86% of Dartmouth's former fellows are now teaching at institutions ranging from tribal colleges in Montana to Princeton University, helping to increase the diversity of the faculty in higher education. Some go back to the communities they were raised in, bringing the experiences and knowledge that they gained from the program back home. For the past eighteen years, this program has been a remarkable success, providing a variety of benefits to graduate students, undergraduate students, and the College as a whole.