Reflections on the Northwestern Public Voices Fellowship from Program Director Michele Weldon

Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer greeted 20 faculty members into the fourth year of the Northwestern Public Voices Fellowship with encouragement and a distinct understanding of the larger mission as they entered into the year-long program.

“The triumph of this program is to take academics and liberate them to put something out quickly with opinion stated boldy and engage with the media and wider world,” Linzer told the faculty selected for the 2015-2016 fellowship in medicine, law, anthropology, music, neurobiology, computer science, psychology, radio, TV, film  and marketing.

Commenting on the lack of under-represented voices and views in the public conversation, Linzer added, “The preponderance of voices are from people who might look more like me. It is important to expand the number of voices and to showcase what Northwestern faculty are thinking and doing.”

With more than 500 successes in thought leadership including opeds, media appearances, keynotes, speeches, panels and books from NU fellowship alums over the past three years, the NU fellows “display the expertise of NU more broadly” and in turn attract “great students and great colleagues,” Linzer said. “You are finding the sweet spot of what is happening in the public sphere and your passion and knowledge of what you are an expert in.”

This coming year’s NU fellowship is led by author/journalists Michele Weldon and Holly Kearl, who together led last year’s fellowship to remarkable success.

The fourth cohort of NU fellows are following in the footsteps of some of the most prolific participants in the Public Voices initiative that includes alums from Princeton, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, Emory, Dartmouth, Fordham and DePaul universities. The PVF group from 2014-2015 produced 187 expressions of thought leadership.

Several alums from the fellowship spoke on a lunchtime panel to the new group to answer questions and offer encouragement, along with Associate Provost for Faculty Lindsay Chase-Landsdale.

“I’ve seen many fellows become public intellectuals and have a big impact on important topics for the greater good,” Chase-Landsdale said.

The alum panel including Eszter Hargitai, Paloma Toledo, Shana Bernstein, Linda Teplin and Alexa Van Brunt, who herself published a record 14 opeds in the first nine months of the program.

Teplin, director of the Health Disparities and Public Policy in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science, remarked that during the fellowship she shifted her thinking about becoming a public intellectual from “Why me? To “Why not me?”

Encouraging this year’s group of faculty to watch the videos from the first three years of the program, Linzer said. “You can see the magic going on in the room. You can see the energy.”

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