JS: What were your motivations for joining the program?
MML: I applied for the fellowship for several reasons. . . . First, to meet and talk with other faculty and staff on campus who hopefully articulated the concepts of “engaged scholarship” better than I could. I have known since I started graduate school in 2000 that a core part of my research was driven by questions that members of my community, the Lumbee tribe, had generated, and I believed—in an epistemological sense, based on my previous filmmaking work—that I wasn’t going to come up with questions worth answering all by myself, that those questions had to be generated through history itself, through discourse over generations. So I was seeking a way to define that kind of assumption about my research and engaged scholarship seemed like a good fit.
JS: What sorts of activities make up the program? Were they tailored to the interests of the individuals involved, or is there a standardized ‘curriculum’ of sorts for a program like this?
MML: Many of our meetings the first year of the program were day-long field trips, visiting sites where UNC faculty had worked with communities, institutions or other constituencies that drove their research and with whom they collaborated deeply. Our own community of fellows was so disciplinarily diverse that there was no way to tailor trips to our own interests really, so we looked at proven models of collaboration. Our sort of guiding light in the program was Mrs. Lucille Webb, founder and Board chair of Strengthening the Black Family (stbf.org), a non-profit based in Raleigh that focuses on health, education and community development in African-American and historically African-American neighborhoods in Wake County. She was there for our “graduation” and has been involved in FES for a long time, and she was always ready to lend her ideas and knowledge as someone who collaborates with scholars and understands both scholarly and community needs. So her voice on these excursions was invaluable. The second year was spent primarily in meetings with our own group of fellows, talking about our engaged scholarship pursuits.
JS: How were you changed by the program? Do you have new plans you want to pursue, initiatives you want to implement?
MML: I think the primary way I was changed was having a lens through which to look at my own research. But the program also inspired me to take engagement to another level, which I am attempting this year through my Lumbee History course. One of the things I learned was that it all happens in baby steps. Last time I taught the course the community engagement focus came primarily through the final exam, which consisted of students’ presentations on their research projects, and those questions were derived from community members’ interests. The final presentations took place over e-lluminate, which broadcasted them through the web to about 40 participants, who could ask questions and make comments in a chat-like forum. But this time around I have made a more concerted attempt to plan the course in collaboration with longstanding institutions and planned the research projects to be more accessible, earlier on, to community members. The website platform may be different from last time, so as to allow students and community members a more “choose your own adventure through Lumbee history” approach. One of the things I gleaned from the program was that if you’re trying to focus on a community that’s broader than the audience at a single institution, then access to information and publicity are important things to plan for.
JS: Would you like to see other History faculty involved in this program in the years ahead?
MML: Absolutely! This type of research is more obvious in fields like social work, public health, etc. that focus on applied research, but as scholars and teachers we all know that History is a discipline that affects everyone, because it answers “why?”, “why are things the way they are?”, that fundamental question we have about our society and ourselves. If we understand “why” we can chart a course for the future, and speak in a way that makes history relevant to the crises we face today, whether in local places, or as a nation, or as a world. That way of speaking is the substance of engaged scholarship, and I see an opportunity for many of my colleagues to participate in the program. . . . I hope more of my colleagues will see this program (and the research funds that go along with it) as an opportunity to learn more about where their research might take them.