Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program

Opportunity Description:

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) Program is part of the Higher Learning program of the Mellon Foundation. The Mellon Foundation is committed to bolstering research and academic endeavors that are aimed at shaping more accurate depictions of the human experience and establishing the groundwork for fairer and more equitable futures. For more than thirty years, the Mellon Foundation has invested in preparing undergraduates to become scholars whose work enriches our lives and deepens our understanding of humanity's complexity. Beginning with just eight schools in 1988, it currently serves forty-eight schools and two consortia in the United States and South Africa. The Fellowship honors the legacy of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. Mays was a scholar of religion who earned his Ph.D. at the UChicago Divinity School in 1935. After completing his doctorate, he continued his work as a human rights activist in Atlanta, Georgia, taught at and eventually became president of Morehouse College, and mentored many, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the core of the MMUF are three key components: research development, mentoring, and cohort-effect. The MMUF is, first and foremost, a research development program. It is dedicated to preparing scholars committed to re-imagining and building a just society through their teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and qualitative social sciences. Once admitted to the MMUF, students are mentored in multiple ways. Throughout their two-year tenure, the program supports Mellon Mays Fellows as they endeavor to build relationships with faculty and graduate students. It also hosts a bi-weekly seminar, sponsors a structured summer research development program, and offers year-round academic guidance, community-building activities, social gatherings, workshops, and occasional research roundtables. 

Every year, UChicago admits up to five sophomores to the MMUF. Students begin their tenure in the program in the summer that immediately follows their second year in the College.

Please see here to learn more about the UChicago MMUF Program. To read more about Benjamin E. Mays, see here and here. And to view a film commissioned by the Mellon Foundation about the history of the MMUF, see here.

Financial Award:

  • Two years term-time stipends of $4,000
  • Two summer stipends of $4,500
  • Annual scholarly development funds of up to $800 for scholarly and research activities
  • Graduate school preparation grants of up to $1,300
  • Once enrolled in a Mellon-designated PhD program, Mellon Mays alumni receive up to $10,000 of payment toward accrued student loan debt
  • MMUF alumni can apply for additional sources of funding sponsored by the Mellon Foundation as they enter graduate studies, complete their dissertations and work to earn tenure

Other Benefits:

  • Offers a distinct experience of cohort and community inspired by the life, work, and values of Benjamin E. Mays
  • Supports students in building strong, enduring professional and mentoring relationships
  • Affords entry into a vibrant community of scholars who are making important contributions to their fields

Minimum Qualifications and/or Eligibility Requirements: 

Basic Eligibility: 

  • U.S. citizens and permanent residents, or DACA Recipients
  • Second-Year students (The Mellon Foundation requires those admitted to the MMUF participate for two full years.)
  • Intent to pursue a research-based degree (PhD) in the arts, humanities, or qualitative social sciences (see below)
  • Sophomores from ALL cultural & ethnic backgrounds who intend on getting Ph.D. in a Mellon-designated field are eligible to apply. Those who can demonstrate their commitment to addressing the challenges of social inequality through research and those from underrepresented backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.

Additional Eligibility Requirements:

  • University of Chicago second-year students studying and interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in a Mellon-designated field (see below) are eligible to apply.
    • Mellon-designated fields include: 
      • Anthropology, Area/Cultural/Ethnic/Gender Studies, Art History, Classics, Geography, English Language & Literatures, Cinema and Media Studies, Music, Foreign Languages and Literatures, History, Linguistics, Theater & Performance Studies, Philosophy, Political Theory, Religion, Sociology.
    • Areas of study that the MMUF does not support are:
      • Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Statistics, or any other science, Economics, Psychology, Political Science (except Political Theory), and Public Policy
    • Concerning Ph.D. fields that one may be considering, interdisciplinary areas of study may be eligible if one or more of the above eligible fields are at their core, but please note that the MMUF does not support Ph.D. programs in Education.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship is open to applicants of all demographic backgrounds. Applicants will be evaluated based on their prior coursework, their plans for a major, and their potential to bring historically marginalized or underrepresented perspectives to the academy. Students should reflect on how their life experiences and academic research contribute to a more diverse academy and satisfy the commitments stated above.

Some research themes and rubrics that may satisfy this goal include, but are not limited to, the following: historical and contemporary treatments of race/racialization and racial formation; intersectional experience and analysis; gender and sexuality; indigenous history and culture; questions about diaspora; coloniality and decolonization; the carceral state; migration and immigration; urban inequalities and ethnographies; social movements and mass mobilizations; the transatlantic slave trade; settler colonial societies; racial disparities and outcomes; and literary and philosophical accounts of agency, subjectivity, and community, among other areas.

Selection Criteria:

  • Superior academic achievement, particularly in courses relevant to one's eventual Ph.D. field
  • Ability to formulate insightful and innovative research questions
  • Clarity and grace as a writer
  • Demonstrable facility for interpretive complexity as evidenced by one's writing sample
  • Potential to contribute to one's chosen field
  • Potential for success beyond post-graduate training
  • Demonstrable commitment to efforts that address some aspect of social inequality—these are typically expressed through one's co-curricular activities.

Application Process: 

To get started, please begin by viewing information found on the UChicago MMUF website. Plan to attend an information session. You may sign up to attend a session here.

Any student who meets the eligibility criteria may apply for admission to the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. However, before applying, students should attend an information session (hosted in January, February, and March) and follow that up by meeting with Elise LaRose individually. She will help you begin preparing your application and is available to offer feedback on subsequent drafts. To arrange meetings with Elise LaRose, please write to her at:


The application requires the following components:

  • Research Project Statement
  • Intellectual Autobiography
  • Curriculum Vitae or Resume
  • Writing Sample (in the form of an academic course paper)
  • One, preferably two, letters of recommendation from people who have taught you in the College (At least one of these should be from an instructor who has already completed their PhD)

The application also has three optional components: 

  • Statement on important learning experiences
  • Statement on creative commitments
  • Portfolio of creative work (broadly conceived)

For more information on this opportunity, please contact:

Elise M. LaRose;; 773.834.0905

Application Deadline:

  • The deadline for every year is April 15.
  • Campus Interviews: the last two weekends of April
  • Notifications of Award: by May 7 for every year, possibly sooner 
For more information on this opportunity, please contact: