Nonprofit Leaders Share Experience Hosting ACLS Leading Edge Fellows, Highlight Value of Doctoral Education
Published: August 10, 2022
How can humanistic knowledge, research methods, and pedagogy help advance urgent social justice and equity initiatives addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing our country?
The ACLS Leading Edge Fellowship Program, which has been supported by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Mellon Foundation, demonstrates the possibilities by pairing recent PhDs in the humanities and interpretive social sciences with a wide variety of social justice organizations in communities across the United States.
ACLS recently caught up with leaders of Hunger Free America, Sembrando Sentido, and the Southern Poverty Law Center to learn about their experiences working with ACLS Leading Edge Fellows over the past year. Organizations interested in hosting the next cohort of fellows are encouraged to submit letters of inquiry by October 4, 2023.
Leading Edge Fellow Kimberly Probolus, a PhD in American studies,collected the data and edited the third edition of the SPLC report on Confederate objects, Whose Heritage?
Seth Levi (he/him/his), Chief Strategy Officer
“As a trained researcher, Kimberly completely revamped our methodology for determining which objects to include in the report, how they are classified – monument, marker, building, etc. – and collected new data to identify objects not in our previous editions.
“She served as a spokesperson on the report, giving interviews to the press and writing op-eds published in newspapers across the nation. She also drafted legislative recommendations to lawmakers on removing Confederate objects from public land.
“Kimberly made a tremendous impact. The new report she produced is excellent and is widely used by the media, activists, and other researchers.”
Hunger Free America hosted two ACLS Leading Edge Fellows this past year, historian Lindsay Drane andsociologistGabrielle G. Gonzales, for the project “SNAP Outcomes: How Public Benefits Impact Recipients’ Lives.”
Emilio Tavarez (he/him/his), Director of Advocacy, Policy, and Research
“Lindsay and Gabbie have added incredible insights to our body of work and we will be publishing an in-depth report on the experience of 65 low-income people that received food assistance during the pandemic. We hope that this report, filled with insights from people with lived experience of hunger and the usage of public benefits, will move elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels to maintain many of the improvements made during the pandemic.
“Lindsay’s expertise as a historian brought a historical perspective to our fight against hunger, from the establishment of SNAP to the current pandemic era changes. She also brought insights about the Great Depression and the economic response that took place, which is similar to the response we saw during the Great Recession and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Gabbie’s expertise as a sociologist supported the design and implementation of the qualitative interviews with low-income participants. She designed recruitment tools, managed volunteers, and coded the interview responses to gather themes for the report. She also helped pace out the work to ensure data saturation and to allow time to write an analysis of our findings.
“I have enjoyed the added capacity and expertise that the ACLS Leading Edge Fellowship has brought to my department. The candidate pool was highly educated and skilled and I definitely want to host more fellows in the future.”
The resource limitations of many NGOs, especially young ones like Sembrando Sentido, often mean we struggle to invest beyond small efforts, and rarely find the opportunities and skills to think through and delve deeper into the root of the problems we aim to address. The ACLS Leading Edge Fellowship Program has helped us fill this gap.
Sembrando Sentido hosted Shauna N. Gillooly, a political science PhD, for the project “Mapping Civic Solutions to Ensure Fair Use of Public Resources in Puerto Rico” and will host its second Leading Edge Fellow, Chris N. Lesser, starting in September 2022.
“Shauna led efforts to assess the state of civic empowerment in Puerto Rico as it relates to anti-corruption and open government efforts; identify and learn from other effective innovations carried out in similar contexts around the world, and extract key insights to inform the design of new interventions led by our organization and partners.
“Shauna was able to learn and adapt to the social and political dynamics in Puerto Rico, and adjust as she developed the project’s research methodology, survey, and interview instruments. [She] carried out and analyzed over 30 interviews within the civic empowerment space in Puerto Rico, mapped potential comparative case studies, and held initial conversations with stakeholders in the Philippines and USVI to further assess and arrive at case study selection.
“As a result of Shauna’s research, we have identified critical areas for strengthening collective action within the civic space and inform the creation of a help desk to support public contracting oversight by local communities, as well as identified new potential intervention and collaboration areas with the best conditions for social mobilization and change in anti-corruption.
“Shauna’s previous knowledge on citizen mobilization was critical in allowing her to quickly contribute to further defining and planning this research. Her analytical and methodological skills allowed her to drive rigorous research; develop appropriate research instruments; effectively communicate and carry out interviews with different stakeholders, and conduct analysis to identify lessons learned and opportunities for civic empowerment in anti-corruption.
“The resource limitations of many NGOs, especially young ones like Sembrando Sentido, often mean we struggle to invest beyond small efforts, and rarely find the opportunities and skills to think through and delve deeper into the root of the problems we aim to address. The ACLS Leading Edge Fellowship Program has helped us fill this gap by allowing us to work with research experts that can focus on uncovering underlying constraints of the challenges we face and identify opportunities to transform our environments.”
Sembrando Sentido will host its second Leading Edge Fellow, Chris N. Lesser, starting in September 2022.
Become a Leading Edge Fellowship Program Host Organization
ACLS is currently seeking letters of inquiry from nonprofit organizations focused on social justice and equity interested in hosting a Leading Edge Fellow starting September 2024.
Preliminary letters of inquiry from prospective host organizations are due October 4, 2023.