The Ford Fellows program, a long-running research program for juniors seeking futures in academia, ceased to exist last year. In its place is the ASSET program, focused less on academia and more on interdisciplinary dialogue as it begins its first full program this winter.
ASSET stands for Artists, Scholars, Scientists and Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow. Reflective of its name, the program seeks out students coming from different backgrounds and going toward a variety of careers. The Ford Fellows program was focused on students interested in careers as college professors or researchers, limiting the applicant population. For example, pre-med students did not fit the qualifications for the program.
“Higher education has changed quite a bit in the last, let’s say, 20 years,” Director of the Center for Research and Advanced Study Mariangela Maguire said. “While people will still continue to find tenure track teaching positions at colleges and universities, there really are fewer and fewer of those jobs. We thought that it made sense to open that program up … to students with other aspirations who are also really high achieving.”
The ASSET program held a pilot program over the summer, comprised of students who had been involved in the Ford Fellowship program and other students who had Richter funding for the summer. Meeting once a week, whether virtually or in person on campus, students gave updates on their projects and read articles together, evaluating them from different perspectives.
Sophomore Rohail Khan was one of the students who contributed while working on his Richter project. In his home country of Pakistan, Khan made connections with aspiring entrepreneurs living near the poverty line. With his Richter grant award and additional money through the college from private donors, he was able to provide them with small loans to put them into better economic standing. The project was exploring his interest in banking, especially under Islamic law, which forbids the collection of interest.
“If I give out money to ten people and if one of them actually uses the money to what they’re claiming they’re going to do, it’s a massive change it’s going to bring to their family,” said Khan. Khan’s success was much higher than that: he gauged that each person he funded was able to increase their income by 30 percent, some by much more.
The ASSET program allowed him to email with other students about his project, though his location across the world prevented him from being included in Skype sessions with the group. Each week, the students would do readings and give feedback based on their educational or cultural backgrounds.
“I absolutely loved to go through them [the readings], because I knew … I wasn’t going to find those articles on my own. It was obvious it took a great deal of effort from her [Maguire] to select the particular group of articles … I thoroughly enjoyed all of them.”
This Winter Term 13 students are participating in ASSET, meeting five time during the term to talk about the projects they will be pursuing over the summer. Junior Tawni Sasaki is one of those students, focusing her research on the political instabilities of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia and what institutions led to the Ebola epidemic. Previously a McNair scholar, which sought out students who plan to pursue higher degrees, she found the different focus of ASSET refreshing.
“I’m really glad that the ASSET program opened up to multiple things, and they are actually looking for people who aren’t going into academia,” Sasaki said. “It’s a great opportunity. I think students should apply, especially if they are unsure about what they’d like to do, because you really never know what might catch your interest.”
It was students and professors with similar views to Sasaki that contributed to Maguire’s desire to change the Ford program into something new.
“When I came to Knox, I was very impressed with the Richter grants, with the wide range of types of projects students were able to come up and get supported,” Maguire said. “Other places I’ve been it’s really only been traditional types of scholarship and research that were funded. My goal was for the ASSET program to capture that diversity of interests.”