Rhodes College
Mellon Innovation Fellowship Program

In the summer of 2014, we began our work by building a steering committee that would initiate a process of inviting faculty and students to apply for fellowships.

In constituting the steering committee, we made a crucial decision to bring together leaders from the faculty and from information services staff. While it broke with convention on our campus, it proved to be very beneficial over the first year as we saw communication improve and generative networks emerge.

By the end of that first year, this vision of a community of practice had become a reality as a first cohort of ten faculty and five student fellows completed work together and two post-doctoral fellows were hired and had joined us.

In the second year, we saw the community of practice develop its identity and expertise, with a second strong cohort of eight faculty, a terrific set of post-docs contributing to our work, an amazing cohort of student fellows, and a very capable steering committee taking the lead. We continued our focus on shared faculty professional development and networking across faculty and information services staff, as well as students and community partners. We built upon the strong foundational first year to extend our capacity for innovative pedagogy and scholarship, including creative use of digital technologies and academic engagement in Memphis.

The student cohort really came together in this second year, and we began to see more fully their value to the community of practice. Six students (3 new and 3 returning) met weekly with Wendy Trenthem and Matt Jabaily, Steering Committee Members and Information Services Librarians. Under their leadership and supervision, they worked as an extremely effective team. They brought diverse research strengths and academic commitments, from Biology, English, Theatre, Urban Studies, and Political Science.

Students provided real support to individual faculty projects and felt accountable to those projects, but at the same time, students were able to take advantage of cross-training and support, developing skills that transfer across projects and beyond individual years to support the next faculty fellows. Shared skill sets included technical support, research support, and support for community partnership development. They were also able to pass along knowledge to new student fellows and have some common supervision, especially over the summer when many faculty were not on campus.

We also saw how the student cohort model produced learning and student development outcomes that exceeded everyone’s expectations – including the students. By the end of the year, the student cohort was meeting with the larger faculty-driven community of practice as well. Initially reluctant to speak freely about risk-taking in front of the students, faculty eventually decided that the community was incomplete without the students. And we haven’t looked back – we are much richer for it.