LAWRENCE — The Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellowship at the University of Kansas was established in 1989 and accepted its first two doctoral fellows in 1991. Since that time, the fellowship has supported a growing alumni network, which now includes 149 members across 34 states and five countries. This group of alumni, or the “Society of Self Fellows,” holds a variety of career positions within higher education, government and across the private sector.
It is because of the successful retention and growth of this alumni group that the Self Graduate Fellowship (SGF) is able to present a new opportunity.
The SGF Society Mentor Program will provide an invested doctoral network of professionals and students, enhance the fluidity of student-to-career transitions and strengthen alumni engagement. Both the current fellows and alumni expressed interest in the program.
“While alumni mentor programs exist throughout the university, SGF has only recently maintained a large enough group to create an alumni mentor program,” said Stefani Buchwitz, SGF program manager. “When I presented the invitation to the society members to serve as a mentor, I was overwhelmed by the responses. Within a few days, I had heard from enough alumni that I was able to pair every fellow with a mentor.”
Mark Bailey, a 2006-2010 fellow with a doctorate in bioengineering, is one of the alumni mentors. Bailey currently works as senior data scientist for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. He said his interactions with current fellows inspired his participation in the new program.
“SGF fellows have impressive motivation and energy that simply needs direction,” Bailey said. “A mentor can help aim that passion into productive and meaningful tasks.”
Bailey and his mentee, 2014-2018 bioengineering fellow Lance Frazer, agreed that a primary focus of their mentorship has been navigating the job search.
“I am excited to talk with someone who has been in my shoes and can offer advice on where to walk next,” Frazer said. “It can be a bit overwhelming trying to think about next steps when I am trying to balance research and graduation.”
Previously, fellows have been able to interact with alumni during annual SGF events, but this often left out a majority of the alumni who lived outside of the Lawrence area. Kaylee Herzog, a 2017-2021 ecology & evolutionary biology fellow, stressed the importance of this program as an introduction to the broader network.
“I was most excited to be given the opportunity to tap into the wealth of experience and discernment that alumni provide outside of the occasional touchpoints we have throughout the year at different events,” Herzog said.
For Laura Peek, current mentor and 2002-2006 fellow with a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry, it had been a challenge for her to find a mentor in her specific career path, which inspired her to take part in the new program.
“The SGF Society Mentor Program links fellows to an exceptional network of leaders across a wide spectrum of disciplines and careers,” said Peek, now a senior scientist for Oncimmune USA in De Soto. “I quickly realized when I started my career in industry that I was in a very different world from academia. By sharing some of my experiences, I hope to help prepare my SGF mentee for some of what can be expected in a future industry career.”
The late Madison “Al” and Lila Self of Hinsdale, Illinois, launched and permanently endowed the Self Graduate Fellowship in 1989, motivated by their strong belief in the vital importance of developing leadership for tomorrow. Madison Self was a 1943 KU graduate in chemical engineering. Lila Self grew up in Eudora and attended KU with the Class of 1943.