Lizeth Gutierrez ’12: First Mellon Mays Fellow to Earn Ph.D.

The fellowship helps underrepresented students pursue academic careers.
Rachel Fritts ’14

Lizeth Gutierrez ’12 is the first Grinnell College Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) fellow to complete her Ph.D., graduating with a doctorate in American Studies from Washington State University in 2017. Grinnell developed its MMUF program in 2009, and Gutierrez was accepted into its second cohort in 2010.

Shanna Benjamin, associate professor of English and Grinnell’s MMUF faculty coordinator, invited Gutierrez back to Grinnell in September as the program’s kickoff dinner keynote speaker. “Having Lizeth there as an example of persistence and belief in oneself … I can’t imagine having anyone else,” says Benjamin.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s goal in funding MMUF programs across the country is to diversify the professoriate by providing fellows with a set of tools — including strong mentors, financial support, and research and time management skills — that can be harder to access for students who feel like outsiders in the academic sphere. 

Funding supports an average of five new MMUF fellows at Grinnell each year. Fellows design a two-year research project with a faculty mentor and receive student loan debt forgiveness up to $10,000 if they enroll in graduate school. MMUF also sponsors travel to regional networking events, connecting students with a vast network of peers and mentors to help them through the graduate school application process and beyond.

The importance of networks based on shared experience is central both to Gutierrez’s success in academia and to her own research. Currently a postdoctoral fellow at Macalester College, Gutierrez, who majored in Spanish with a sociology concentration at Grinnell, is studying how chisme (roughly translated as “gossip”) among Latina women working in the domestic industry functions as a tool of survival, helping them navigate their economic conditions and negotiate their rights.

 “I don’t think I would have survived my time at Grinnell if it wasn’t for the mentorship I received,” she says. “Grinnell College is very lucky to have [MMUF].”


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