The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Ever heard of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)? Probably not.

Here at NCSL, though, we know ACLS and we love ACLS. That’s because the group has provided NCSL with not one but two “fellows” who have worked on our elections team over the years—and we have just been named to host another Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow starting next fall.

ACLS provides a stipend to cover a professional salary and benefits for a recently minted Ph.D for two full years. Two years! That’s quite a gift.

Our first fellow, Karen Shanton, became a blogger extraordinaire some years ago, and spearheaded the development of several of our resources linked at the bottom of our voter ID webpage. Old now, but conceptually still relevant. Karen also taught us a thing or two about giving good PowerPoint presentations (few words, engaging images) and on maintaining a research trail. We on the elections team still follow much of what she taught us.

Patrick PotyondyOur second fellow, Patrick Potyondy, just left us. At NCSL he took on the assignment of understanding the U.S. Census, which turned into a surprisingly fascinating webpage. He focused on how states benefit from a good census count (two words: money and power), how states can help ensure a full count and what it takes to reach hard-to-count populations. That wasn’t all though. He also did a complete revamp of our materials on initiative and referendum processes and followed 2018’s ballot measures. And he started an oral history project for NCSL!

Obviously, we benefitted from both these fellows, and thus love ACLS. The ACLS mission for the public fellows program isn’t to make us happy though. It is to offer a career-building initiative designed to demonstrate the dynamic potential of doctoral education in the humanities, outside of academia.

In 2019, the Public Fellows program expects to place up to 21 recent Ph.Ds from the humanities and humanistic social sciences in two-year staff positions at partnering organizations in government and the nonprofit sector. Like Karen and Patrick, fellows are expected to participate in the substantive work of the host organizations (that’s us!).

The program is intended to show what Ph.Ds can do—and to prep recipients for future careers. It’s worked twice for us. Karen is now a researcher at the Congressional Research Service (a dream job that’s parallel to that of a legislative researcher, just on the federal stage), and Patrick took a job with Common Cause in Colorado, working directly with the legislature and state stakeholders on some of the very topics he worked on at NCSL, including the census.

Do you know any recent Ph.Ds who might like to work at NCSL or other government or nonprofit agencies? The application deadline is 9 p.m. (EST), March 13. For more information, please visit ACLS’ Public Fellows page.

Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows is a fellowship program offered by the American Council of Learned Societies and is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Please direct all inquiries about the fellowship program to ACLS.

Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director for elections and redistricting.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.