A New Era

Sixty years after the founding of the first fellowship program at Radcliffe, Meredith Quinn builds on the strengths of her predecessors to begin the program’s next phase.
Photo by Tony RinaldoPhoto by Tony Rinaldo
By Casey Campbell

Meredith Quinn is the new executive director of the Fellowship Program, which brings 50 fellows to the Radcliffe Institute each year. Quinn is a familiar face on campus, where she most recently served as the chief of staff to Harvard’s provost. She earned a PhD in history from Harvard University, an MBA from Stanford University, and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard-Radcliffe Colleges. We sat down with her in her Byerly Hall office to talk about her experience, hopes, and vision.

You have been a valued member of Harvard’s community for some years. What was it about leading the Radcliffe Institute’s Fellowship Program that persuaded you to take on this new professional challenge? 

The fellows who come here are just extraordinary. It’s such a privilege and a joy to be around them. Although there’s a lot of cross-disciplinary work on campus, it’s still rare to have such a broad range of disciplines represented—arts, sciences, social sciences, and humanities. To have that all in one place is actually unique. I am also inspired by Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin’s vision for a Radcliffe that is more engaged with the world around us and committed to opportunity. I often say that I have the best job at Harvard, and I mean it!

Although it’s early days yet, can you tell us a bit about your vision for the Fellowship Program?

Radcliffe’s theory of action is that when you bring together exceptional people from a broad range of disciplines, the mixture enables a special sort of creativity. Looking forward, we would like to better understand what sort of relationship our alumnae/i fellows want to have with us and how Radcliffe can continue to be of service to them. How can we give them an inspiring “Radcliffe experience” wherever they are in the world? Another core part of Radcliffe’s mission is sharing ideas with the public. For many years now, we have offered fellows workshops on topics such as public speaking and book publishing. We are exploring ways of expanding and deepening these programs. We want to support fellows’ efforts to have an impact on the world. 

Can you share one of your favorite Radcliffe experiences thus far?

One of our fellows, Dana Sajdi, casually mentioned during orientation that she wanted to learn to sing. Inspired by her, a group of fellows, led by our two composer fellows, has been meeting every Wednesday evening to sing together around the piano in the Byerly basement. At last week’s holiday party, the group put on a joyful (and excellent) performance. It was proof of something that the fellow and cognitive psychologist Ani Patel had told us in his fellow’s talk: the power of music to create community. 

What do you wish others at Harvard knew about Radcliffe? 

I wish that more people knew about our Radcliffe Research Partnership program. We give fellows the option of hiring Harvard undergraduates to work with them. Fellows love it, because our undergraduates are so talented and dedicated; hiring them helps our fellows do more with their time. For the undergrads, it’s an opportunity to dig deep into original research in the company of a leading artist or scholar. They often learn new skills. I think Radcliffe has cracked the code here, in terms of how to make those partnerships successful.

Aside from your impressive academic and work history at Harvard, is there anything you’d be willing to share with readers about yourself?

I really welcome hearing from alumnae/i of the fellowship program and of the Bunting Institute, the current program’s predecessor. I’m trying to get to know the Radcliffe community, and I appreciate when people reach out to me. 

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