General News

New fellowship review process supports network engagement and equity

Editor’s note: The following piece was co-authored by the Switzer Foundation staff. 

The Switzer Foundation updated our fellowship review process this past year. The goals were to bring a diversity of perspectives into the selection process, involve the Switzer Network in decision making, and provide alumni with a new opportunity to engage and give back to the foundation. The process was guided by the foundation’s equity goals, which can be found here.

The first round of review of 2021 Switzer Fellowship applications was conducted by 60 volunteer reviewers selected to be broadly representative of the Switzer Network by race, gender, educational background, degree program, sector, cohort, and geography. The second round of review was conducted by our longstanding fellowship program consultants. This hybrid approach brought the best of both worlds—expanding the breadth of perspectives involved in the selection process while maintaining consistency and rigor. 

Final interviews of selected candidates were conducted as usual by volunteers from within the Switzer Network, including former fellows, Switzer family members, foundation trustees, staff and friends of the network. We structured the interviews as much as possible to reduce bias, by providing background resources, using standardized questions for all interviews, and minimized follow-up questions and prompting. Interview teams evaluated candidates’ responses using a rubric, and they did not discuss candidates until all interviews were complete. 

We are pleased to report that the updated process resulted in selection of the most diverse fellowship cohort to date—including strong representation by BIPOC fellows (89%) and first-generation college students (40%) from 16 different universities. In addition, the vast majority of volunteer reviewers reported a positive experience—nearly all affirmed that they gave back to the foundation in a meaningful way, felt inspired by the applicants, and fostered a sense of connection to the network.

The Switzer Foundation is committed to continuing to improve and iterate our processes to create and support an equitable and inclusive Switzer Network. Challenges we will continue to address include recruiting interviewers who represent the diversity of identities and expertise we have, and those which we seek to include, in the network; and providing more clarity on the foundation's vision and priorities for reviewers. We are also working on new ways to share aggregated demographic information about the Switzer Network in order to provide transparency on historic and current trends in funding and hold the foundation accountable to our commitment to advance equity and justice. We welcome feedback from the community, and we invite you to reach out with any questions, concerns or ideas you may have. 

In closing, we would like to extend a huge thank you to all of our volunteers who made this reimagined process possible. We are grateful for the time, energy and dedication shown by the network in helping to select the latest cohort of Switzer Fellows.