Fellowship examines social issues at the forefront

Fellowship graphic.

Graphic courtesy of Fellows at the Forefront

3 min read

Fellows at the Forefront is an innovative faculty-led summer pilot program where students work together on a series of research, policy, and advocacy projects that focus on some of the world’s most pressing social issues. The first cohort, led by Dustin Tingley, focused on climate change and sustainability issues.  

The concept was developed by Harvard’s Center for Public Service and Engaged Scholarship in 2021 as a way to leverage peer-to-peer learning as students who are working on the same issue through different means join together in a summer workshop led by a Harvard faculty member. Half of the cohort of 10 students work with community partner organizations as summer interns. They learn about a social issue from the perspective of organizations trying to address it directly through policy or practice.  The other half of the student cohort work directly with the faculty leader on research assignments. Community partnerships are developed by the Center’s Pathways for Practice team, led by Alysha Johnson Williams.  

 Tingley and doctoral student Aleksandra Conevska organized weekly discussions with climate change and sustainability experts from around the world. They also facilitated reflection pairs, organized a book club, and hosted a special workshop for students on life in academia. The summer workshop deepens what students are learning in the field and provides a multidisciplinary and multi-dimensional understanding of climate change issues.  Students had the opportunity to learn from experts such as Thomas Maltese, who manages the Zero Emission Bus Rapid-deployment Accelerator (ZEBRA) program at C40 Climate Leadership Group, Shannon Baker-Branstetter, who served as the deputy director of policy at for the climate and racial justice organization Green for All, and Humayun Tai, who leads McKinsey and Company’s electric power programs. This cohort will be running again for a second year.

“What I really enjoyed was how much I was integrated into a real-world setting,” said Naomi Davy ’22. Davy said the summer workshop with Clea Schumer ’20 was particularly inspiring as it helped her to navigate potential post-graduate paths.  Schumer currently works with World Resources Institute, one of the participating community partner sites with Fellows at the Forefront. Through her fellowship last summer, Davy worked at Green for All and she will be working with a renewable energy consulting firm upon graduation.

Kaya Williams, an assistant professor of Anthropology, is leading a second cohort of students this summer focused on racial justice and mass incarceration issues. Students will be working on Professor Williams’ research team and at community partner sites including Prison Journalism Project, Orleans Public Defenders, Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, MacArthur Justice Center, and Vera Institute of Justice.

Future fellowship cohorts may focus on global health, food systems, housing security, educational equity, and human rights work. The Center hopes to expand the model to support five cohorts of fellows each year (50 student fellows in total) by Summer 2025.  Faculty members who are interested in participating in Fellows at the Forefront are encouraged to contact Travis Lovett at