Eujin Park, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education, was in the inaugural 2021 class of IDEAL Provostial Fellows. Sarah Riley is a member of the 2023 cohort. (Image credit: Courtesy IDEAL Fellows program)

As she made her way through the U.S. K-12 school system, Eujin Park had questions about why things were a certain way.

Why was there such a divide between her school life and community life? Why did her school group diverse ethnic groups together as Asian while her family drew distinctions between various Asian ethnic groups? Why was her high school’s student body predominantly Asian American but nearly all her teachers white? Why were the high-track classes made up mostly of Asian students while regular- and low-track classes were mostly white, Latinx, and Black students?

These questions are at the root of Park’s research, which examines how U.S. education systems and practices contribute to and maintain a racial hierarchy. Now an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education, Park was a member of the first cohort of the IDEAL Provostial Fellows Program in 2021.

The program offers three-year fellowships to early-career researchers with the goal of increasing the amount of research and teaching related to race and ethnicity at Stanford. Twenty fellows have been appointed thus far, representing a wide variety of fields, including medicine, education, anthropology, psychology, history, and the arts.

A longer-term objective of the program is to provide a pathway to the professoriate, and, as of now, seven fellows have been tapped for assistant faculty positions at Stanford and other institutions, including UCLA, University of Madison–Wisconsin, USC, and Swarthmore.

Increasing scholarship and building community

Park credits the program for expanding and enriching her research.

“Beginning at Stanford as an IDEAL Provostial Fellow allowed me to dive fully into my research and develop richer and more nuanced analyses of my data,” said Park. “The wealth of resources here – both tangible and intangible – have also provided me the support to explore new questions.”

One benefit of the IDEAL Provostial Fellows program is the ability for early-career scholars to build community.

“The other fellows are by far the best thing about the program,” said Sarah Riley, an information science PhD candidate and a 2023 fellow who studies municipal algorithmic systems to better understand race, racism, and inequality at the local level.

“My cohort is brilliant and supportive. Although our research topics are quite different, learning about their work and work processes has been so informative. Beyond that, we’ve built a strong community. Post-PhD life can be hard; it’s filled with uncertainty. My cohort has supported me through the ups and downs of research and academic life. I’m incredibly lucky to have them,” said Riley.

The fellows contribute to Stanford’s research and teaching mission by sharing their questions and findings in the classroom, as well as at conferences and in publications. Park finds that teaching has particular rewards.

“Working with the wonderful undergraduate and graduate students here has introduced me to new research collaborations that are both grounded in my existing research agendas and expand them,” said Park.

The ‘gift of time’

Supporting oneself as an early-career scholar can present challenges that often impede research and career development. The IDEAL Provostial Fellows program allows scholars to focus on their work in a concentrated way and gives them access to a range of resources.

“While at Stanford, I want to meet as many people, read as many papers, and write as much as I can. This fellowship has given me the gift of time to do those things,” said Riley.

Park agrees. “The program was incredibly valuable to my scholarship and career because it gave me breathing room to work on publications, conduct follow-up research, and regain my sense of balance … it was the first time in years that I was able to focus solely on my own research without working on other people’s projects,” she said.