Six Florida State University assistant professors have received the Florida Education Fund’s (FEF) McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowship, a program that promotes excellence in teaching and research by underrepresented minorities and women.
Fellows receive a one-year sabbatical to engage in research and training projects related to securing tenure and promotion.
“I am proud of the ongoing commitment of The Florida Education Fund and The Graduate School to support the advancement of underrepresented junior faculty (Black, Hispanic and women), especially during this crucial time in their careers,” said Adrienne Stephenson, assistant dean of The Graduate School and university liaison to the McKnight Fellowship Program. “The diversity in their fields of study, their perspectives, experience, knowledge and expertise are critical in shaping the future of higher education.”
In accord with program guidelines, the university agrees to release the awardees from their normal workloads while receiving their regular salaries, including benefits, during the 2021-2022 academic year. In return, the FEF provides payment to universities to help defray necessary teaching replacement costs.
Initially funded by a grant from the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the FEF was established in 1984 and has awarded more than 230 McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowships to historically underrepresented minorities and women. The purpose of the program is to advance faculty diversity within Florida colleges and universities.
The following professors were awarded the McKnight Junior Faculty Development Fellowship for the 2021–2022 academic year:
Laura Reid Marks, College of Education, Counseling and School Psychology
Marks is an assistant professor in the APA-accredited Combined Counseling and School Psychology doctoral program. She’s also the director of the Global Research on Working to Ameliorate Health Disparities (G.R.O.W.T.H.) Research Lab, which seeks to develop knowledge on the factors that precipitate disparities in career and health, and the ways in which these disparities can be decreased.
“It is important to have protected research time to achieve the research success necessary for tenure at a preeminent research institute like Florida State University,” Marks said. “This fellowship plays a critical role in reducing inequities that exist in higher education and helps to develop a community of diverse scholars.”
Overall, her research focuses on minority stressors (e.g., overt racism, racial microaggressions) and their deleterious effects on the lives of people of color. Her long-term goal is to develop culturally tailored interventions to reduce health disparities that exist for people of color. Marks said the McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowship will give her the opportunity to work on a project investigating the factors that contributed to the health disparities witnessed during the pandemic.
“This fellowship will provide me with dedicated time to work on a project where we collected data on mental health and substance use at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Marks said. “It has been widely recognized that communities of color have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. I will examine differences in these health outcomes based on race and sex at birth, as well as factors that may modify or change these relationships.”
Justin Benavidez, College of Music, Tuba and Euphonium
Benavidez is a professor of tuba and euphonium in the College of Music. He’s performed in venues throughout North America, Europe and Asia and currently performs as principal tuba of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra. His teaching focuses on musical performance, pedagogical instruction and career training for aspiring music educators and professional performers. A cornerstone of his instruction is career mentorship and leadership development for underrepresented populations, particularly BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and women identities.
Benavidez said that the fellowship will allow him to complete his writing of “Notes for Tubists: A Guide to the Repertoire,” which is due to be published by the Oxford University Press in 2023.
“This book will be a comprehensive analysis of solo tuba repertoire, and I hope it will expand the canon by including works from a diverse identity of composers,” Benavidez said. “I am excited to use my research to broaden the programming choices that students and professionals will select for the concert hall.”
The fellowship will also allow Benavidez to develop a workshop for graduate students of underrepresented identities that will provide discipline-specific mentorship with the intention of diversifying the future faculty of music programs in higher education.
“By supporting the research of underrepresented minorities and women, the Florida Education Fund is directly addressing the historical inequities of the academy,” Benavidez said. “As a beneficiary of this award, I am hopeful that my research and endeavors will support the mission of the program by addressing these inequities in my field.”
Mackenzie Alston, College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, Economics
Alston is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy and a research affiliate for the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on understanding the role of stereotypes and discrimination in settings like the labor market and schools.
Alston deferred her award until 2022-2023 because she is currently on leave for a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). When she begins the fellowship in 2022, Alston will start a new project that aims to measure discrimination in the hiring process. Alston will also use the fellowship to wrap up her current project on the influence of the social justice movement on faculty productivity.
“The McKnight fellowship gives me a year without teaching or service, which means that I can spend more time on my research,” Alston said. “Because of this fellowship, more assistant professors of color can focus on their research, which will increase their chances of securing tenure and has the larger implication of allowing departments to have more racial diversity among their senior professors, which is great for professors in the department as well as students.”
As an academic, Alston said she has an inherent interest in research and enjoys using experiments, surveys and data analysis to rigorously study behavior that she’s observed casually in the real world.
“This fellowship gives me the chance to pursue my research so that I can share my findings with other scholars and the general population and incorporate my results in my labor economics and experimental economics courses so that my students benefit, too,” Alston said. “At a research-intensive institution like FSU, it is important that assistant professors dedicate sufficient time to their research.”
Jennifer Steiner, College of Health and Human Sciences, Nutrition and Integrative Physiology
Steiner is an assistant professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences. Her research studies the effects of alcohol on the body with a primary focus on how it affects skeletal muscles.
“Skeletal muscle is important to our everyday lives because it lets us move around as well as assists with metabolism,” Steiner said. “We use cell culture and other models to determine how alcohol intake affects healthy skeletal muscle as well as how its use can influence the response of the muscle to other conditions like cancer or aging.”
Through the McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowship, Steiner will have more time to spend on current studies and be able to write prior studies for publication.
“This award supports the completion of research activities and allows faculty to improve teaching methods and advance their careers substantially,” Steiner said. “Time is at a premium and when a faculty member is able to gain time back to pursue their projects forward progress is most easily achieved.”
Tisha Joseph Holmes, College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, Urban and Regional Planning
Holmes is an assistant professor in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. Since joining the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in 2015, Holmes has examined how different actors work to adapt and build resilience in planning and public health contexts to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate related impacts in Florida and the Caribbean.
“The Florida Education Fund is integral to broadening opportunities for historically underrepresented groups to thrive in the academy, and I am honored to receive the McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowship,” Holmes said.
The McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowship will allow Holmes to expand upon research funded by the FSU COSSPP LeRoy Collins Institute.
“I will examine how resilience and housing planners, community advocates and private actors are responding to the potentials of coastal displacement from sea level rise and the threats of gentrification pressures associated with inland retreat in Miami-Dade, Pinellas and Duval counties,” Holmes said. “I hope this work can advance Florida focused climate justice research and develop a critical assessment of barriers and opportunities for state and local level policies to shape more climate resilient coastal communities in equitable ways.”
Arienne Ferchaud, School of Communication, Media Entertainment
An assistant professor in the School of Communication, Ferchaud’s research focuses on the intersection between entertainment media and new and emerging technologies. Specifically, she studies the ways in which we process entertainment media in new technological spaces. Her work has focused on areas such as television streaming and binge watching, social media and video games. During the fellowship, she plans to follow-up on a study she did exploring how playing video games featuring protagonists with mental illness can reduce the stigma against those suffering from mental illness.
“One of the major things I’ve wanted to do since the publication of that original study was to follow it up with a more long-term analysis,” Ferchaud said. “Being selected as a McKnight Junior Faculty Fellow is helping me to examine the long-term effects and plan my studies in a way that I can conduct high-quality research outside of the classroom. I’m also really excited to explore how we can use entertainment media for social good more broadly.”
The fellowship will also allow Ferchaud to work more closely with her Multimodal Emerging Media Entertainment Research group.
“Women and people of color are still largely underrepresented in higher education at all levels of faculty, but particularly in higher positions of power,” Ferchaud said. “I think this award helps support people from these groups to advance in their careers. Ultimately, this is a benefit to the students, who get a wealth of knowledge from being exposed to faculty from all these different, underrepresented groups.”
To learn more about the McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowships or similar awards, visit the Office of Graduate Fellowships & Awards at ogfa.fsu.edu.