Penn Center for MSIs Launches Unprecedented Program to Increase Hispanic Faculty in the Humanities

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pathways to the Professoriate is supported with a $5.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Jeff Frantz, Penn GSE Associate Director of Communications
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The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) is launching an unprecedented program to increase the number of Latino professors working in the humanities at US colleges and universities.

Pathways to the Professoriate, supported by a $5.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will prepare 90 students from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) for Ph.D. programs over a five-year period.

This program comes as colleges and universities across the United States are trying, and often struggling, to develop a faculty that reflects the nation’s growing ethnic and cultural diversity. The scarcity of Latino professors is especially stark, as Latinos make up only 4.1 percent of the professoriate in the United States, but 20 percent of the population aged 18-44.

“This is not a problem that can be fixed overnight,” says Marybeth Gasman, director of the Center for MSIs. “We see this program as a way to begin a fundamental change. We hope this creates a strong pathway to graduate school for Latino students that will grow over time, with these students supporting one another, and one day becoming mentors themselves.”

“As the demographic profile of the US changes, the country has a compelling interest in obtaining the full participation of previously underrepresented communities,” said Mariët Westermann, Vice President at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “The past decade has seen considerable gains in doctoral degree attainment for Latinos, yet these gains have not kept up with the growth of the US Hispanic population. We have every confidence that this program will build on the successful pipeline programs piloted by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

During the five-year program, the Center for MSIs will partner with three Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) — Florida International University; the University of Texas El Paso; and California State University, Northridge — and five majority research institutions — New York University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Pennsylvania; Northwestern University; and University of California, Davis.

Selected HSI undergraduate students will take part in intensive summer research programs and cross-institutional conferences, while also receiving mentoring, and support for applying to and enrolling in graduate school.

It will take years for these scholars to move into the professoriate, and many will be hired at schools other than the five participating research institutions. Still U.C. Davis Provost Ralph Hexter believes his campus will benefit from the partnership immediately. 

“We’ve been making slow progress on our own stated need — to have a diversified faculty that reflects our student body, to have research conducted by a diverse a group as possible — but we need to accelerate that progress,” Hexter says. “Having our faculty work with scholars from a broad array of institutions can change how hiring decisions are made.”

“There is tremendous talent in so many places,” Hexter says. “We need to enhance our ability to recognize and appreciate it.”

Florida International University is 64 percent Latino, and every country in Latin America and the Caribbean is represented in the school’s student body. “We feel like we represent the future of what academia could look like,” says Elizabeth Bejar, FIU’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. Currently, FIU does not have a Ph.D. program in many humanities subjects.

“We know we have students here who have the quality and caliber to be Ph.D. students at nationally renowned research institutions,” Bejar says. “Pathways to the Professoriate will give these students needed support to make sure that can happen.” 

Throughout the grant, the Penn Center for MSIs will be conducting assessments of how selected students are progressing. In doing so, Gasman hopes to “find the leaks in the pipeline” — the challenges that are most likely to halt a Latino scholar’s path to a Ph.D.

About the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions

The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions brings together researchers and practitioners from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions. Based at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, the Center’s goals include: elevating the educational contributions of MSIs; ensuring that they are a part of national conversations; bringing awareness to the vital role MSIs play in the nation’s economic development; increasing the rigorous scholarship of MSIs; connecting MSIs’ academic and administrative leadership to promote reform initiatives; and strengthening efforts to close educational achievement gaps among disadvantaged communities. For further information about the Center, please visit

 About the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Founded in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work. For more information, please visit 



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