2015 Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Convene to Share Experiences and Discuss Opportunities Beyond the Academy

2015 Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows gather in front of the Friends Center in Philadelphia

ACLS convened its annual Public Fellows Seminar in Philadelphia on August 25-27. The event, the third meeting of its kind for the six-year-old program, focuses on forging a network of PhD-professionals at similar stages in their careers.

Launched by ACLS in 2010 with the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows program places recent humanities PhDs in two-year staff positions at non-profit organizations and government agencies where the fellows participate full-time in the substantive work of their host organizations. By partnering with a diverse roster of institutions each year—from the American Civil Liberties Union to Public Radio International to the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh—the program promotes diverse career paths among humanities PhDs and demonstrates to academic and non-academic audiences alike that doctoral education in the humanities has broad public utility.

ACLS brings Public Fellows together at the midpoint of their fellowships for the seminar, which offers a number of sessions designed to facilitate group discussion and reflection on the fellows’ successes in their first year, as well as any challenges they overcame along the way. “We know that Public Fellows do high-profile, high-impact work at their organizations,” said John Paul Christy, director of public programs at ACLS. “But the seminar is especially striking for its juxtaposition of so many stories of accomplishment and thoughtful approaches to connecting deep humanistic expertise to an array of career fields beyond the academy.”

Fellows also discussed strategies for applying the experience they have gained toward the next steps in their careers. In a session led by Rosanne Lurie, the senior associate director of Career Services at the University of Pennsylvania, the fellows considered the basics of professional networking, including the role of social media in creating and enhancing connections. As the Public Fellows program facilitates fellows’ professional growth with formal mentoring and funding for professional development activities, the seminar also featured sessions on maximizing opportunities for acquiring new skills and capacities, and for building an informal board of advisors to guide fellows’ career growth.

The seminar concluded with a panel discussion with Public Fellows alumni, which this year featured Rebecca Hewett F '11 (The Shubert Foundation), Ciara Murphy F '14 (The Public Theater), Jessica Neptune F ’14 (US Department of Health and Human Services), Laurel Seely Voloder F ’08, F’11, (US Department of State), and Rachel Wimpee F ’13 (Rockefeller Archive Center). The alumni shared their own experiences as fellows, focusing especially on their strategies for a smooth post-fellowship transition and on what resources they drew on to prepare themselves for the next step of their careers. The panel addressed the current fellows’ questions and comments in a candid, flowing conversation that left everyone with new insights and ideas about getting the most out of the second year of their fellowships.

"I left Philadelphia not only with a clearer understanding of my own goals for the next year and gratitude for my colleagues at PolicyLink," said Abbie Langston F’15, "but also with a deeper sense of connection to the rest of my cohort."

ACLS wishes each of the 2015 Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows a successful and productive final year of their fellowship tenure filled with professional growth and accomplishment.