Research Award Spotlight: COSSPP Faculty Win McKnight Fellowships

Two faculty members of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy are among the six Florida State University assistant professors receiving the Florida Education Fund’s (FEF) McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowship, a program that promotes excellence in teaching and research by underrepresented minorities and women.

Under the program, Assistant Professor of Economics Mackenzie Alston and Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Tisha Holmes will 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 Black and Hispanic junior faculty, 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.

Alston is also 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.

She 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. She 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,” she said. “At a research-intensive institution like FSU, it is important that assistant professors dedicate sufficient time to their research.”

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.”

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 other four McKnight Fellowships from FSU are Laura Reid Marks, (College of Education), Justin Benavidez (College of Music), Jennifer Steiner (College of Health and Human Sciences) and Arienne Ferchaud (School of Communication).

To learn more about the McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowships or similar awards, visit the Office of Graduate Fellowships & Awards at this link

Dr. Mackenzie Alston is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Florida State University. Her research focuses on understanding the role of stereotypes and discrimination in settings like the labor market and schools using a combination of experiments and surveys. You can learn more about Dr. Alston here.

Dr. Tisha Holmes is an Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University. Her research focuses on climate change and adaptation strategies in coastal zones, promoting socio-ecological resilience in marginalized communities, planning in ecologically sensitive areas, and community participation and engagement. You can learn more about Dr. Holmes here.

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