Mellon Grant Awarded to OU’s Native American Studies Initiative

Mike Seals - January 18, 2021 9:29 am

The grant establishes a new undergraduate fellowship program at OU and helps fulfill an important need to establish students as future leaders for the state.



NORMAN, OKLA. – A recent grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will establish a new fellowship program at the University of Oklahoma to educate and empower students to make a difference in Indian Country.

The four-year grant for $749,240 was awarded to the Department of Native American Studies and Native Nations Center at OU, and the funding will support the establishment of the Mellon Foundation Impact Fellows Initiative at OU. The two-year fellowship will be based on three components the Department of Native American Studies has identified for students to achieve excellence and positively impact Indian Country in their future careers: leadership, scholarship and community engagement.

“At OU, preparing our students to make a meaningful impact on society is the embodiment of our university’s foundational purpose – that we change lives,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “This fellowship will inspire our students to lead and advocate for the diverse issues facing Tribal Nations today. We are incredibly grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for establishing this initiative, which utilizes OU’s longstanding legacy of excellence in Native American teaching and research to ultimately benefit communities and people worldwide.”

Each fellowship class will consist of 12 students, known as Mellon Foundation Impact Fellows. Native American Studies majors and minors will be given priority but other students will also have the opportunity to apply. The Mellon grant will create a focused environment for a selection of exemplary students who will complete a series of courses, learning and building a robust community together.  Fellows will earn the credential designation of Mellon Foundation Impact Fellows, with the expectation of establishing them as future leaders in Indian Country. The grant will also support two postdoctoral associates who will be housed in the Department of Native American Studies.

The Mellon Foundation Impact Fellows Initiative was developed by principal investigators Raymond Orr, Ph.D., and Amanda Cobb-Greetham, Ph.D. Orr is the chair of the Department of Native American Studies and Cobb-Greetham is the director of the Native Nations Center at OU. Together they have designed the program to elevate the student experience.

“We are grateful for the opportunity that the Andrew Mellon Foundation has provided us,” said Orr. “This funding will allow us to further expand our curriculum and enrich student experiences.”

The initiative will combine the efforts of several groups.

“We are honored by the Mellon Foundation’s recognition of OU’s excellence in this area as well as our potential for continued growth,” Cobb-Greetham said. “The Impact Fellows Initiative will draw on the resources of the NAS department, the Native Nations Center, and the Office of the Tribal Liaison to maximize resources and community networks and provide students with the depth of experience they need to swing for the fences in whatever arena they choose.”

Considered the heart of Indian Country, Oklahoma is home to 39 culturally diverse Native nations and almost half a million Native American people.  Mellon Impact Fellows will benefit from and strengthen OU’s and the state’s relationships with its tribes, bringing this program in full circle support of the university’s core purpose to change the lives of each generation of students and to impact society through life-changing discoveries that improve the human condition.

Native students who are Oklahoma residents make up approximately 7% of the total undergraduate students enrolled at OU in fall 2020. Native undergraduates who are non-Oklahoma residents constitute a further 2% of total enrolled students. The program will utilize “high impact” educational practices – diverse experiences that ensure students make contact with multiple forms of learning and contexts. Lack of educational access at the postsecondary level continues to be a challenge for these students nationwide.

Oklahoma’s Native American tribes have been at the forefront of efforts to economically revitalize the region and have substantially contributed to the state’s overall diversity. OU is ideally situated to provide a central place for students committed to using distinctly Native American perspectives to place the sovereignty of Native nations and the cultures of Native peoples at the center of their work. OU’s resources include remarkably rich museum collections, and archives, innovative Native research efforts, a high number of Native faculty and staff, and comprehensive Native student services.

To learn more about the Mellon Foundation Impact Fellows Initiative and OU’s Native American Studies Department, visit


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