The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation prepares the nation's best minds to meet its most important challenges, working through education. The Foundation supports its Fellows as the next generation of leaders shaping American society.
About the Woodrow Wilson Foundation
The History of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
In 1945, Princeton University professor Whitney Oates worried that promising scholars who had left academic careers to fight in World War II would not return to pursue advanced degrees. He and Princeton’s graduate dean, Sir Hugh Taylor, persuaded Miss Isabelle Kemp, a private donor, to support the first of a group of graduate fellowships that would attract veterans back to Ph.D. studies.
Soon, as the implications of the G.I. Bill became clear, leaders nationwide realized that the urgent need for quality higher education required a new generation of outstanding college and university professors—at a time when the best undergraduates were not choosing careers in higher education. By recruiting college teachers on a larger scale, the Woodrow Wilson Fellowships could address an urgent national education need and open new doors to individuals who otherwise could not afford to attend graduate school.
Hence, in 1949, the Carnegie Corporation granted Princeton $100,000 to extend its fellowship program nationwide. Now called the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program—in honor of Princeton's best-known leader, scholar, and innovator—the effort remained small until 1957. In that year the Ford Foundation granted $24.5 million to support 1,000 fellowships each year for five years, and the program became a new independent nonprofit, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
From its earliest days through two renewal rounds of the Ford grant (1962 and 1966), the Foundation selected and supported more than 15,000 Woodrow Wilson Fellows. These Fellows became intellectual leaders not only within the academy, but also in government, the corporate world, and the nonprofit sector. Today, they include 13 Nobel Laureates, 35 MacArthur Fellows, 14 Pulitzer Prize winners, and hundreds of other distinguished individuals—as well as everyday classroom heroes.
Changing needs, a changing Foundation
As new educational opportunities opened to women and people of color in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation broadened its commitment to opportunities in higher education for the best students from all walks of life. New programs of the era included the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Internships and Administrative Internships, which took graduate students and young administrators into HBCUs to gain experience and build institutional capacity; the Martin Luther King Fellowships, which prepared African-American veterans for public service careers; and the Woodrow Wilson Women’s Studies Dissertation Fellowship, the first and only national program of its kind. And, through the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program, the Foundation brought business, government, and nonprofit leaders to small, isolated liberal arts colleges as guest teachers, broadening horizons and offering practical counsel.
Even as the Foundation continued to draw outstanding young scholars into higher education and public service, it also recognized that the nation had growing needs in elementary and secondary education. In 1982, Woodrow Wilson established the Leadership Program for Teachers, a series of nationally recognized professional development programs for middle and high school teachers in math, science, and humanities subjects. Over the next two decades, more than 2,500 teachers participated in LPT’s summer institutes. In the late 1990s another Woodrow Wilson effort, Teachers As Scholars, brought K–12 teachers nationwide back into the college classroom to explore the latest research with university faculty, reinvigorating teachers’ intellectual interests and offering them new understandings to use in the classroom.
Individual excellence, institutional innovation
In recent years, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has continued to cultivate America’s best minds, administering programs like the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowships, the Doris Duke Conservation Fellowships, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships, and the Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellows (MMUF) Dissertation Grants and Travel/Research Grants. In addition, through two small faculty fellowship programs, the Foundation has helped new and recently tenured faculty, particularly scholars of color, advance in their careers.
At the same time, in the 1990s a series of new Woodrow Wilson programs created a new emphasis on institutional reform. Through programs like the Humanities at Work and the Responsive Ph.D., the Foundation pressed American doctoral education to address new challenges within the academy and meet new social needs beyond it.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the Foundation has expanded its longstanding commitment to American education, promoting a series of pioneering and substantive school-university partnerships that operate in the crucial high-school-to-college transitional years. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Woodrow Wilson is creating Early College High Schools that help prepare low-income and minority students to succeed in college. Woodrow Wilson expertise and networks also support various other college readiness initiatives.
Continuity and change: the best minds for the nation’s most important challenges
Today, Woodrow Wilson seeks to build upon its legacy of excellence, maintaining its historic commitments and attacking one of the nation’s most urgent contemporary challenges: the pervasive achievement gap between Americans, by race and income. Using the prestige of its historic fellowships as well as harnessing new resources, the Foundation has created what it hopes will be an influential fellowship to recruit exceptionally able men and women to careers in high school teaching, the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships. These Fellows, training in exemplary teacher education programs, will be prepared to teach in low-income communities and high-need schools.
Through this work, the Foundation seeks to dignify the teaching profession, encourage the most outstanding students to choose teaching as a career, and improve the quality of teacher education programs. At the same time, the Foundation will engage in initiatives designed to improve teacher education practice and policy.
The new Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships are being developed in national, state-based, and local versions, bringing full circle the Foundation’s work in creating access to educational excellence for some of the nation’s most talented young people—and thereby serving urgent national needs.