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Sharing Academic Expertise Far Beyond Campus Borders

New fellowship program works to bring underrepresented voices to public discourse

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October 4, 2012 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Twenty Northwestern University faculty members will receive intensive training and one-on-one mentoring from top journalists and media experts this academic year as fellows in a new program designed to significantly increase the number of women and minority faculty voices shaping public discourse.  

The Public Voices Thought Leadership Fellowship Program is sponsored by the Office of the Provost in partnership with The OpEd Project, an organization created in 2008 by journalist and author Catherine Orenstein in response to the dearth of female and minority voices in mainstream media opinion. 

Since the OpEd Project’s founding, more than 5,000 women and a smaller number of men from very different backgrounds have been empowered to claim their voices and share their expertise in the media through opinion pieces, keynote speeches and columns. In addition to Public Voices Fellowship Programs in place at other universities including Yale, Emory and Fordham, the OpEd Project conducts core public seminars in a dozen cities around the country.

“Whoever tells the story writes history,” says Medill Assistant Professor Michele Weldon, an award-winning journalist, author and prolific opinion piece writer for CNN.com, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Huffington Post. She will co-direct the fellowship program with American Prospect contributing editor and columnist E.J. Graff. A veteran journalist, Graff has published work in The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Slate.com and other print and online media outlets.

The Public Voices Fellowship Program “aims to develop women and under-represented minority faculty experts as thought leaders whose ideas shape the important public conversations of our age,” Weldon says. Surveys find women, including academic women, are far less likely to submit their ideas to a public forum than men. Minority voices have even lower numbers of participation.

“With approximately three in four opinion pieces in the nation’s top media outlets authored by men, the ideas shaping public discourse are overwhelming white and male,” Weldon says. “The OpEd Project and Public Voices Fellowships are shifting that dynamic.”

The program also dovetails with Northwestern’s own strategic plan goals of actively engaging with the world and conveying new knowledge, research and creative expression fostered at Northwestern to broader audiences. 

Scholars who participate in the program do not only place opinion pieces at top media outlets. Many have gone on to get regular columns and book contracts, receive funding for projects and testify before Congress, according to Weldon. She served as a mentor and co-leader of the fellowship program piloted at Stanford and Princeton universities. 

The newly named Northwestern fellows will take part in four interactive seminars focused on developing thought leadership across many platforms, receive one-on-one mentorship in writing, shaping and pitching their opinion pieces and have access to monthly conference calls with top-level journalists from across the nation.

Congratulations to the 2012 Public Voices Thought Leadership Fellows:

  • Amer Aldeen, emergency medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Geraldo Cadava, history, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • Jennifer Chan, emergency medicine, Feinberg
  • Carolyn Chen, sociology and Asian American studies, Weinberg
  • Charlotte Crane, School of Law
  • Jaime Dominguez, Latino studies, Weinberg
  • Elizabeth Gerber, mechanical engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Ruchi Gupta, pediatrics and Institute for Healthcare Studies, Feinberg
  • Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, political science, Weinberg
  • Namratha Kandula, general medicine, Feinberg
  • Sun Young Kim, management and organizations, Kellogg School of Management
  • Leslie McCall, sociology, Weinberg
  • Mary Mulcahy, hematology/oncology, Feinberg
  • Laura Beth Nielsen, sociology, Weinberg
  • Puneet Opal, neurology, Feinberg
  • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, human development and social policy, School of Education and Social Policy
  • Miriam Sherin, learning sciences, Education and Social Policy
  • Jacqueline Stewart, radio/TV/film, School of Communication
  • Cristina Traina, religious studies, Weinberg 
  • Celeste Watkins-Hayes, African American studies and sociology, Weinberg
Topics: University