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Cornell faculty celebrate 50 years of Ford Fellowships

Three Cornell faculty members recently traveled to Irvine, Calif., to attend the inaugural Senior Ford Fellows (SFF) Conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ford Fellowship Program. Last week, the Ford Foundation, which funds the program, announced a $100 million commitment to extend it for another 10 years.

"Attending the first SFF Conference was deeply inspiring and quite exciting," said Riché Richardson, a 2001 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and associate professor of Africana studies. "Becoming a Ford Fellow is one of the greatest blessings I've ever received as a professional. The fellowship opened the door to additional opportunities that I could not have anticipated, and to the network of talented students and scholars in the 'Ford Family.' Over the years, the Ford Fellowship Program has been one of my most valuable resources for intellectual and professional development as a scholar."

By supporting underrepresented minorities in their studies, the Ford Foundation has helped to increase the ethnic and racial diversity of the nation's academic faculties. History of art associate professor Cheryl Finley, a 2000 Dissertation Fellow and a 2004 Postdoctoral Fellow, said that the profound impact of the 50 years of the Ford Fellowship Program's commitment to diversifying the academy was abundantly clear at the conference, with its impressive roster of tenured faculty and university administrators.

"The Ford Foundation's model for supporting, mentoring and cultivating a climate of diversity in higher education remains unsurpassed and stands as an example for other institutions across the nation today," Finley said.

Robert Harris, professor of Africana studies, was one of the first Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellows in 1972; he became a Postdoctoral Fellow in 1983. "Ford Fellows have a really good network where they can share their joy and anguish and call upon senior fellows for advice and counsel," he said. "It doesn't end when the fellowship ends. I've been involved with Ford Fellows since I was a grad student, and now I'm a full professor about to retire."

At the conference, Harris was one of three featured speakers on a panel titled "What's Beyond Full: Chairing Departments, Leading Centers, Building Programs and Institutes, Joining Administration."

"It was an opportunity for those of us who held early fellowships and who have risen through the ranks to become full professors to pass along our wisdom about the pitfalls and opportunities of moving into administrative positions," explained Harris, who served at Cornell for six years as a special assistant to the provost and eight years as vice provost.

Many current and past Cornell students have received Ford Fellowships, and Richardson, Harris and Finley count a number of their own graduate students among them. Harris, who has served on review committees selecting fellows, said that "the competition these days is very keen. They're outstanding applicants, and it is a joy to see one of your own students receive a Ford Fellowship."

Linda B. Glaser is staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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