African-American academics Roland Fryer and Tiya Miles have been named 2011 recipients of MacArthur Fellowships.
The fellowships, also known as ”genius grants,” were awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and reward individuals in a wide variety of disciplines who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” After being nominated by someone in their field, fellows are chosen by the foundation based on their creativity, past achievements and potential to continue such achievements. There is no application process for the award, instead, fellows recieve a phone call out of the blue informing them that they have been selected.
Both Fryer and Miles are university professors whose work deals with complex questions of race as it relates to their disciplines.
Fryer, a 34-year-old professor of economics at Harvard University, researches the causes of economic disparity due to race and inequality.
“I wake up every day and try to go to work and understand, ‘How can we make it such that everybody in America has a shot at the American dream?’” Fryer said.
Fryer is currently focused on analyzing educational data to predict the quality of life children will have as adults based on test scores. Fryer says the data can be used to make critical changes to education and close the achievement gap.
Miles, 41, is a history professor at the University of Michigan whose work centers around the relationship between African and Cherokee people living and working in colonial America. As an African-American woman, she says it was her own family history and Native-American heritage that sparked her interest in studying the relationship between the two groups.
Miles has already published two books on the subject; Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom in 2005 and The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story in 2010.
Each fellowship comes with a stipend of $500,000 paid to the recipient over five years for the advancement of their work. Twenty-two others recieved the prestigious award this year.
(Photo: Courtesy the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)