Recommender Guidelines

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program is designed to facilitate the movement of students–who are underrepresented and underserved in academia, or who are committed to the project of diversifying higher education–from their final undergraduate years through their pursuit of PhDs in the humanities or humanistic social sciences. The program’s aim is for participating students to become healthy, savvy, productive, and joyful college and university professors. The program approaches this aim by introducing students to the components of faculty work—research, teaching, mentorship, and service—through a two-year cohort experience that includes skill acquisition, community building, professional development, and faculty-mentored undergraduate research. The success of this program depends, in part, on our identifying interested, talented students. As such, your input is essential.

What We are Looking for in a Student 

We are looking for students who show promise to pursue and thrive in graduate study and, eventually, enter the professoriate. We recognize how hard it is to predict where students will be in a decade, so we ask that you focus on a few qualities that we believe make up the foundation for students’ success in the MMUF program: 

  • intellectual curiosity and love of learning,
  • receptiveness and responsiveness to constructive criticism,
  • self-directedness and discipline, 
  • research experience (if applicable), 
  • orientation toward community and mentorship, and
  • potential to succeed in an academic career.

It is our view that students who demonstrate the above qualities are likely to have the motivation and the ability to learn and grow in the program. We hope that you are in a strong position to comment on each of those qualities, as an instructor, research mentor, or someone who has otherwise worked with this student in an academic setting.

What We are Looking for in a Letter 

We invite you to review the prompts below for guidance as you write your letter. Please respond openly and honestly, as much as your present knowledge of the student may allow. It will be most useful to us, and most helpful for your student, if you are able to offer examples from particular assignments, conversations during office hours, activities outside the classroom, etc. If you can’t think of an example, that’s fine! We invite you just to share that in your letter.

  • We are interested in understanding this student’s approach to academic argumentation and analysis. How would you describe the contributions that the student made to classroom discussions or other forms of intellectual engagement in the course? How well, and in what specific ways, did this student utilize evidence in support of arguments in written and other assignments?
  • Think of an assignment for which your student received or solicited feedback. What was the nature of the assignment and of the feedback? How did the student respond? How did the student implement your suggestions or address your questions? Did the student’s work improve as a result? 
  • Think of a time when your student pursued a topic or question that went beyond the basic requirements of your course (e.g., asked an intriguing question, sought out material relevant to the course on their own, etc.). Describe what the student did, and tell us why it stood out to you.
  • What other story or stories would you like to share that illustrate how this student stood out in this class, or amongst all students you’ve taught?

As we write many recommendations ourselves each year, we know that the genre is given to superlatives. We appreciate those when they are genuinely the best way to describe this student. We also encourage you to feel welcome to be very honest, both about ways in which this student is brilliant and areas in which this student would benefit from further development. If you review the questions above and realize that you are not in a good position to respond to them for any reason, please encourage the student to identify a different recommender.


If you have any questions as you are considering a request from an MMUF applicant, or as you are preparing your letter, please feel welcome to contact either of the MMUF Coordinators.

MMUF Administrative Coordinator

Afia Ofori-Mensa

[email protected]

MMUF Faculty Coordinator

Dan-el Padilla Peralta

[email protected]