What does it mean to be a GEM Fellow?

By Daziyah Sullivan. Thinking about applying for a GEM Fellowship? Learn all about the process from a current fellow!

Faculty, staff and students at the annual GEM meeting

I am a GEM.

As in someone precious?

Nope. Well, I mean yes - thanks for noticing. I meant that I am a GEM Fellow.

What’s that?

Glad you asked.

The GEM Fellowship is a fellowship sponsored by the The National GEM Consortium. As you can see on this site, their mission is to:

“Enhance the value of the nation’s human capital by increasing the participation of underrepresented groups (African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanic Americans) at the master’s and doctoral levels in engineering and science.”

This is a mission I can get behind! And a mission I am happy to be a beneficiary of.

A little more about me:

  • I am an American of distant African ancestry, (I sometimes refer to myself as generic Black, as in I generally vibe with all people of African ancestry though cannot claim a specific and unique cultural heritage)
  • I am a woman, biologically and identification wise
  • I am a first-generation college student and an HBCU Alumna (Go Rattlers!)

I am also an engineer. Full stop.

Systemically, my identifiers and the way that others profile me have not set me up for success in the field and career path that I have chosen. I do not come from a long line of STEM workers. Those within my family that attended college past an associate degree were not those who were most present within my life (my great-grandmother had seven children, all of those bloodlines are my family but I am closer to some than others; however, family is family, and I appreciate the ability to see educational representation so closely.)

I’ve always been identified as an intelligent, young, black woman. Which has afforded me some privileges and assistance in pursuing my path in STEM.

When I said that I wanted to be a teacher, my teachers instead encouraged me to pursue engineering - as I was good at math.

When I said that I wasn’t sure about graduate school, my professors instead encouraged me to not just go - but to go all the way to a PhD.

The expectations of and encouragement from others have always opened doors for me. People get excited by the prospect of an underrepresented minority excelling academically and choosing to continue their education to a level higher than most people do.

I recognize these opportunities as a privilege afforded to me because of the way my intellect is perceived.

The GEM Fellowship affords similar opportunities and encourages students in the same manner. - And all that person has to do is apply.

The thing is: the National GEM Consortium provides more than just a fellowship to grantees. Here is a list of a few extras afforded to those who simply take the step to apply:

  • Their information is placed into a database that GEM Member Universities have access to
  • Being an applicant, there will be a LOT of emails from GEM Member Universities wanting you to apply to their programs
  • Many GEM Member Universities give fee waivers for graduate school applications

The bigger, most direct picture:

  • Those from underrepresented groups from across the country are able to be reviewed by professors from GEM Member Universities. There are professors who participate in what I refer to as “active recruitment,” which means they seek out diverse talent to attend their university and/or be a part of their lab. (P.S. This is why I am at Rice! I didn’t even know this university existed before Dr. Higgs emailed me!)
  • It is difficult for even the most connected/resourceful students to determine a program that is a good fit for them, and students without trusted advisors and mentors to turn to have it doubly hard. Receiving emails from a myriad of programs can help give a broader understanding of the possibilities out there aside from a “Top 10 Programs” list. These emails also tend to include information on amenities the student may not have even thought to screen for!
  • Finances should not be a barrier to pursuing higher education opportunities. I don’t know about you, but the idea of paying around $100 for each application would stop me from applying for anything I was not fully sure of. Make sure to ask for application fee waivers to apply to any school your heart desires, GEM related or not!

GEM is also one of the only fellowships that covers full tuition and fees for Master’s students…

All that being said, the process after submitting an application can be a tad stressful and confusing. That’s why there is a FAQ!

Important things to remember about the GEM Fellowship is the structure of the fellowship and its resulting levels. The GEM Fellowship is an agreement between The National GEM Consortium, GEM Member Universities, and GEM Employer Members. Receiving the fellowship means that the university agrees to cover your full tuition and fees for the duration outlined (through the fourth semester for Master’s and through the fifth year for doctoral applicants). This is the benefit associated with being a University Fellow, and it is a fantastic benefit! Especially as only Master’s students can be University Fellows and often Master’s programs are out of pocket. 

Being an Associate Fellow provides the same benefit, but adds on a stipend to be provided by the university (pay out and amounts determined by master’s or doctoral level program). Full Fellows (hey, I’m in this category!) get at least one paid summer internship with their GEM Employer, a larger stipend (minimum of $16,000 for Master’s and the university must bring doctoral students to the department minimum), and the full tuition and fees, of course.

Once again, there are levels.

So I’ll give a quick insight into the application process in case you are/are considering applying to GEM. (Note: I am presenting these as defined stages, but they really aren’t.)

First stage (after application submission, around November - January): 

  • Must apply to at least three GEM Member Universities by the deadline set forth.
  • Must attend a mandatory webinar about next steps. (At least I had to, the system could have changed since my application process).

This stage is when you will be getting the most emails from universities that are interested in your application. Remember: receiving a GEM Fellowship requires acceptance to a program at a GEM Member University that agrees to sponsor you.

Second stage (after applying at least three GEM Member Universities, around January - March):

  • Employers will start to look at your profile, also known as being “matched.”
  • You may receive calls for interviews with interested GEM Employers.
  • Advisor meetings will likely be taking place.

This stage will likely cause you the most stress. The GEM Office tries to match students with GEM Employers as best as possible, and when a GEM Employer is interested in you, they can pull in your profile. This means that while you are matched to an employer, no other employers can look at your profile. Being matched does not guarantee an interview, nor does it guarantee being chosen. During my application process, the timeframe for employers to choose fellows was until about mid-March. Even though you may not be chosen yet, be sure to mention that you have applied for this fellowship during your interviews with advisors

Third stage-Option 1 (after being selected by an employer, around February - March):

  • Determine the details for your summer internship opportunity(ies).
  • Reach out to advisors you were most interested in and let them know that you received the fellowship!

Accepting the employment offer means that you must attend a GEM Member University. You are also encouraged to accept interviews and offers made to ensure a strong relationship between GEM and the employer (as in, do not accept the offer and then decline and make them start all over again - your application will be nulled if you decline). Your funding is essentially guaranteed at this point, so reach out to advisors at the GEM Member University you wish to attend and inform them of this. The GEM Rep for the university (can be found by clicking the name of the university on this website) should be contacted to ensure that the university will sponsor you as a GEM Full Fellow. Remember: the university essentially pays the bulk of the price of your graduate degree. The FAQs detail the steps to take if you have not been accepted by a GEM Member University.

Third stage-Option 2 (you are not selected by an employer, March):

  • You could request the chance to be a University or Associate Fellow by your chosen GEM University

Being a University or Associate Fellow guarantees that your tuition and fees will be covered by your university for the defined time period. You may also receive a stipend (as an Associate Fellow) when you previously might not have. This also looks great on future applications to other fellowships that do not compete with the GEM Fellowship.

These stages also assume that you are applying while not already being within a program, but much of the same information applies besides the need for applying to three universities.

All in all, the GEM National Consortium provides a fellowship program that optimizes impact for underrepresented groups in the STEM field. It provides a collaborative effort with universities and employers to streamline their diversity and inclusion efforts while providing underrepresented groups with access to information/resources they may not have had access to otherwise. I am a GEM (Full Fellow) and proud.


Read more:

Making the Switch from Minority Serving Institution (MSI) to Predominately White Institution (PWI)

Getting Involved in Grad School

Knowing your wellbeing resources

About the author: Daziyah Sullivan is a second-year Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering. Originally from Florida, Daziyah earned her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in 2020. Read more.