Spencer Education Fellowship | Columbia Journalism School

Spencer Education Fellowship

Supporting longform reporting that deepens and enhances public understanding of education in America and beyond

About the Fellowship

The Spencer Fellowship offers an extraordinary opportunity for journalists and educators in- and outside of the U.S. to spend an academic year at Columbia University researching and producing journalism about a significant topic in education. A non-residential option is also available.

All fellows audit courses and work closely with professors in the Journalism School as well as with mentors throughout the university. Projects by past fellows have ended up as books, radio documentaries and major pieces in national magazines, among other outlets.

Topics have spanned a broad range, from desegregating schools to special education, culture wars, technology and the history of teaching in America. New and provocative ideas are welcome.

Four fellows are selected each year by a distinguished board of scholars and journalists. The two residential fellows each receive an $85,000 stipend for living expenses and an additional $7,500 for research support. The two non-residential fellows receive $40,000 plus $7,500 for research support. Both fellowships come with the option of also teaming up with an academic researcher to tackle original research that enhances the project.  

Funding is provided by the Spencer Foundation.

Spencer Fellows 2020-2021

Max Freedman is a journalist, teacher and theater artist based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He is the creator, producer, and host (with Mark Winston Griffith) of School Colors, a limited podcast series about race, class, and power in American cities and schools. Freedman plans to spend his Spencer Fellowship year reporting and producing an audio docu-series on the diversity plans for three New York City school districts.

David Jesse is the higher education reporter for the Detroit Free Press, where he has spent nearly a decade covering the state’s private and public colleges and universities. A graduate of Cornerstone University, Jesse will spend his fellowship looking at small liberal arts colleges across the Midwest. He plans to detail the shaky future for these schools and the small, often rural, towns that rely on the schools as the prime economic force.

Sonali Kohli has reported on education and breaking news for the Los Angeles Times since 2015. Her stories include an award-winning series on high schools in L.A. surrounded by homicide, coverage of the Los Angeles teachers strike and reporting on mass shootings and deadly fires in the state. A graduate of UCLA, Kohli will spend her Spencer Fellowship year working on a young adult nonfiction book about teen activism in the past and present.

Linda K. Wertheimer is the author of the award-winning book, "Faith Ed, Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance," which scrutinizes public schools’ efforts to teach about religion often in the face of controversy and has worked as an education reporter or editor for nearly 25 years. She will use her Spencer Fellowship to work on narrative nonfiction book tentatively titled, "Seeing Color, Can Schools Prepare a New Generation of Anti-Racists?"

How to Apply

The Spencer Fellowship is open to journalists who want to develop an ambitious longform journalism project geared for a large, general audience. 

All applicants must complete an online application form. The deadline is the end of January for the following academic year, which typically runs from the end of August to mid‐June.

The application requires:

  • A professional profile and resume Summarize your professional career, including your current and past positions. Include how this fellowship may fit into your professional plans. Applicants with reporting experience covering education or educators who can demonstrate proficiency in journalism are preferred.
  • Three examples of your work Include samples that demonstrate experience in education research and writing, including newspaper and magazine clips, broadcasts, films, books, monographs, academic reports or other writing. You must supply links to any work you submit. If your sample is not in English, please provide a translation.
  • Proposal for your project Education touches nearly every aspect of human life, so we encourage applicants to think expansively about the scope of their projects. Don’t feel as if your topic needs to fall within categories of past Spencer projects. Include in your proposal why your topic is significant for a large, general audience; how a greater understanding of research will enhance the work; and what your hopes are for a final published project. Be as specific as possible.
  • Proposal for research at Columbia Judges also consider whether the topic is one that will benefit from research opportunities at Columbia University. What kinds of larger questions do you anticipate researching while on campus? Which courses, experts and professors at Columbia are on your bucket list to assist your reporting and why? 
  • Essay on a current policy or trend in education This does not have to be related to your project idea. Judges are looking to gain insight into your facility with education issues. 
  • At least three letters of recommendation Ideally, one should be from the publication that has shown interest in the project and a second from a current or recent employer. Judges take note of applicants who are most likely to be able to publish their work for a national audience.

There are no academic prerequisites. Fellows receive a certificate of completion (not a credit‐bearing degree) at graduation.

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