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26 September 2014
Mellon Mays Fellowship Undergraduate Dinner

UWC Professors host Mellon Mays Fellowship Undergraduate Dinner

UWC’s Vice-Chancellor and Rector, Prof Brian O’Connell, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, Prof Ramesh Bharuthram, have been dubbed the fathers of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) Programme at UWC - so it was only appropriate that they presided over the MMUF dinner held at UWC on Friday, 26 September 2014.

The American-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation wants to help create a legacy of qualified and gifted scholars who will provide opportunities for all students to experience and learn from the perspectives of diverse faculty members. The programme is named in honour of Dr Benjamin E. Mays, the noted African-American educator, statesman and minister, and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The MMUF programme strives to identify exceptionally promising students at a very early stage in their academic careers and set them on a path to becoming exceptional scholars in their field in South Africa, and to see more PhDs emerge from minority groups. The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship is run by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and honours Benjamin Elijah Mays, an African American scholar who grew up in the rural South of the US, and went on to become an educator, university president and civil rights activist.

The prestigious programme is administered on three South African campuses (UWC, the University of Cape Town and the University of Witwatersrand). It provides financial support and mentoring, and seeks to address the imbalances in the representation of minority groups in tertiary education.

The dinner honoured the selection of the five new Fellows for the 2015 cohort of the programme, and also recognised the accomplishments of the previous cohorts. All Fellows from previous cohorts have proceeded to Honours study, and nearly all have proceeded to Masters study. Zandisiwe Magwebu, a student from the very first UWC Mellon Mays group, became the first Fellow to complete the programme and register for her PhD – at UWC's Medical Biosciences Department – with another Fellow leaving to start her PhD at Leeds University this year as well.

Executive Assistant in the DVC: Academic’s Office, Dr Vanessa Brown, who has overseen the programme at UWC since its inception, explained that an effective mentoring component is part of the programme, with a view to absorb students who successfully achieve their PhDs into the future staff component of the University. She also pointed out the elite nature of the programme – while 70 excellent students are considered for the programme annually, only five are selected in the end.

“The only requirements are that you have to represent a disadvantaged minority group, and excellence must be part of every aspect of your academic life,” Dr Brown explained.

Another student and member of the first Mellon Mays cohort at UWC, Mario Meyer, explained how the MMUF programme had helped him grow and achieve. Mario has been awarded several bursaries, including the prestigious Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, and has visited the US and the UK on development programmes.

Meyer thanked Professors O'Connell and Bharuthram for the part they played in this, and for their many other contributions to the Mellon Mays programme, and to the University.

“Without you, this wouldn't have been possible,” he said. “You will both be remembered for your character and inspiring servant-leadership.”