Designed by Mary Coleman, the Center's founding director, the University Scholars Program began as the centerpiece activity of the newly established JSU Center for University Scholars in 2003. It nurtured and encouraged the research productivity of early career faculty and senior faculty retooling their research skills or exploring new fields. It supported the last class of University Scholars in 2013. The Academy for Research and Scholarly Engagement, which focuses on securing extramural support for research agendas, replaced it.
The program supported 91 Jackson State University faculty including a few for consecutive years. Results of University Scholars Program grants include 2 books, 1 chapter in a book, 71 articles in peer-reviewed publications and proceedings, 1 exhibition of original art, 1 original music composition and 1 course re-design. As of 2016, the Center can document that 59 of the 91 University Scholars (64.8%) completed the original product for their grants. (See the list of publications and other products by University Scholars.)
The Center awarded University Scholars Program grants to full-time tenure-track Jackson State faculty based on internal and external reviews of proposals. University Scholars received $10,000 (initially $8,000) summer salary stipends, summer graduate assistantship and a modest research expense account. The salary support helped University Scholars to conduct research full-time during the summer. Each received the advice and aid of an external mentor.
The University Scholars Symposium brought together University Scholars along with their research mentors and collaborators to discuss their findings. It provided them the opportunity to subject their findings to critical examination and refine them for further presentation and publication. Additionally, it served as a shared space for Jackson State's learning community to thoughtfully consider research topics. In addition to conventional research presentations, the symposium also included an exhibition of Hyun Chong Kim's artwork (2008), a conversation between David Ware and blues legend Bobby Rush (2008) and Milan Milosevic's performance of an original music composition by Ivan Elezovic (2013). In 2006, the University Scholars Symposium featured its inaugural keynote speaker, Mark Anthony Neal. In succeeding years, it hosted the featured speakers of the Matthew Holden Jr. Lecture: Ira Katznelson, Theda Skocpol, Glenn Loury, Dianne Pinderhughes, Henry Brady, Ronald Davenport, Sr., and James L. Hudson.