The University Administrative Fellow (UAF) Program is turning five

UAF alum Chaevia Clendinen

The University Administrative Fellow (UAF) Program is a professional development initiative run by the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School.  It matches graduate students with university administrators for an internship-like experience that allows the students to learn about the administrator’s profession and to work on a specific project in the administrator’s office. The program was developed by the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School in response to growing interest from students in careers in administration, both in higher education and beyond the academy.  The number of fellows in the program has risen as high as twenty students this past year.  Hands-on, project-based learning and one-on-one mentorship are the cornerstones of the program. 54 fellows have completed the program, which enters its fifth year this fall.

UAF program alumni include Chaevia Clendinen (*15, Molecular Biology), pictured, who was a UAF in the Office of the Dean for Research in 2014, and Zitsi Mirakhur (*17, Population Studies), who was a UAF in the Office of Programs for Access and Inclusion in 2016. Clendinen is now assistant dean for student advancement and diversity in the Division of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, and Mirakhur is currently a research associate at The Research Alliance for New York City Schools.

Clendinen, who was in the first cohort of the UAF program and worked with Associate Dean for Research Karla Ewalt, says the UAF experience “truly cemented my decision to enter higher education administration,” and that it offered her the necessary preparation for her career. She shares of her experience, “I worked on several projects, but most importantly, I was able to sit in on meetings and understand the complexities of university administration. This experience was vital to gaining my AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship position at the NSF and my current role at the University of Chicago.” Clendinen also values the mentorship she received from Dean Ewalt and feels “the UAF program was a very positive and invaluable experience.”

Dean Ewalt remarks how “Chaevia brought her research skills to each project she undertook – being open-minded, gathering and distilling information, and formulating recommendations. Her work on the Laboratory Learning Program examined the policies and program to make sure that program would serve students from diverse backgrounds, including those who are traditionally under-represented in the sciences and engineering fields. [Additionally, her] work revising the University policy for training in the responsible conduct of research came at an unexpectedly opportune time. Not long after we competed the revision, the National Science Foundation visited campus as part of a nation-wide effort to see how RCR programs were being implemented and to identify best practices across institutions of higher education. It was a great opportunity for Chaevia to contribute to a University policy which has origins in federal agency requirements.”

Zitsi Mirakhur’s “favorite part about the work was [getting] to use [her] research skills to help improve programs for students at Princeton.” Of her administrative mentors, Associate Dean of the College Khristina Gonzalez and Associate Director for the Freshman Scholars Institute and Programs for Access and Inclusion Nimisha Barton, Mirakhur says, “They were particularly wonderful mentors because they listened to what I was finding in the literature and the data and were willing to make changes accordingly,” and that “they were invaluable in helping me imagine careers within universities beyond faculty positions, and both of them generously helped with my own job search process.” She also welcomed the change in pace from her doctoral research: “I found it fun and exciting to do work in much shorter cycles, and I found that I enjoyed writing brief memos with key takeaways, which were very different from the dissertation chapters I was concurrently working on.”

Each spring, administrators interested in serving as mentors submit project descriptions that are reviewed by the Graduate School and then publicized to graduate students. Interested students submit a CV and a cover letter directly to the prospective mentor, who then interviews candidates and hires for the position. The application and hiring process are intended on their own to be professional development opportunities for graduate students who apply.  Each position is structured to require a time commitment of about six hours per week from the student. Half of this time is used to allow graduate students to learn more about the office in which they are working, the University as a whole, and the structure of higher education. Since the program is designed primarily as a learning opportunity with specific goals tied to the educational work experience, it is paid as a fellowship.  Students must be in good standing and have the support of their adviser to be eligible to participate.

In addition to the two listed above, a variety of offices have participated in the program, including the Office of Technology Licensing, Pace Center for Civic Engagement, Community Based Learning Initiative, and Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations. In fall 2017 a professional development seminar series was added for the UAF cohort. Topics of the series included understanding the university as a complex organization and looking at legal and ethical issues in higher education.

Of the initial UAF experience in 2014, Dean Ewalt says, “Our experience from that first year was so positive that the office of the Dean for Research has hosted 10 fellows since the program began. It’s a natural fit between our mission to support the University’s research community and the education of graduate students as researchers. We integrate the UAFs into collaborative projects and invite them to be part of the discussion and decision making process for the project. It is a unique opportunity to contribute to the framework upon which research happens. Fellows in our offices have contributed to outreach programs, policies, research communications, drones, technology licensing, corporate relationships, and foundation proposals.“

Graduate students interested in applying to become a University Administrative Fellow should consult the UAF pages under the “Career Exploration” heading of the “Professional Development” section of the graduate school website (https://gradschool.princeton.edu/professional-development/university-adm...), or look out for listings in the Professional Development bulletins that are sent weekly by email.  They may also contact Amy Psczcolkowski, assistant dean for professional development.