Campus Life

Minority Fellows Initiative Celebrates 20 Years

Minority fellow James Zarsadiaz starts this fall as USF's first Asian American history teacher

by Monica Villavicencio, Office of Marketing Communications

They’re USF pioneers. They started educational programs in African American, Asian American, and Latino-Chicano studies, contributing to USF’s diversity in immeasurable ways. This summer, they’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fellowship that brought them to campus — the Gerardo Marín Diversity Scholars (GMDS) program.

A most important move

“I don’t think that anyone understood how critical it was going to be to USF’s diversity,” said Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, vice provost for diversity and community engagement. “Now, looking back, it was one of the most important things we could’ve done.”

USF created the GMDS program at a time when universities around the country were struggling to diversify their faculty. Over two decades, it’s brought 30 promising minority scholars to campus to teach classes at USF while they finish their doctorates. They come from universities all over the country and are among the best and brightest in fields such as sociology, history, political science, and public health. This year, three fellows will be placed in the School of Education, College of Arts & Sciences, and School of Nursing and Health Professions.

Building a pipeline to leadership

The program’s benefits are manifold, enabling USF to mentor underrepresented minorities, who go on to become leaders in academia, and to recruit talented and diverse faculty before they go on the job market. In fact, the program has helped USF increase its faculty of color by 14 percent.

Thirteen former fellows have stayed and become USF faculty or administrators, among them Eileen Fung, associate dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, assistant professor of politics and White House Champion of Change honoree; and James Zarsadiaz, who will become USF’s first Asian American historian this fall.

“The program has produced faculty that look like our students,” said Wardell-Ghirarduzzi. “And that’s important because the students see themselves in the fellows who become professors.”

Former fellows who are now faculty have also reshaped curricula in sociology, history, anthropology, and political science and developed new majors and programs.

Ahead: science and technology fellows

“The GMDS program created a critical mass of ethnic minority faculty that could support each other and collaborate on developing new courses,” said Gerardo Marin, associate provost for academic affairs, who started the program with a grant from the James Irvine Foundation.  

Looking ahead, Wardell-Ghirarduzzi says she hopes to see the program expand to new frontiers. “One of the areas of growth is in the sciences and technology. We have a beautiful new science building, and in the next few years, I want to see a group of fellows in the sciences and technology who can really help USF grow.”

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