The Center for University Scholars began in 2003 as a vehicle for promoting research productivity and career advancement for a university transitioning from a teaching institution to one with a burgeoning research portfolio and greater emphasis on faculty research productivity. The Center's founding director, Mary Coleman, designed the University Scholars Program as its signature activity. The program nurtured and encouraged the research productivity of early career faculty and senior faculty retooling their research skills or exploring new fields. It supported its first class of University Scholars in 2003 and its last class 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. University Scholars Program grants led to the production of 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%) published their work or (in the case of artists) resulted in a major exhibition or recital of their work. (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. Each University Scholar received a $10,000 (initially $8,000) summer salary stipend, summer graduate assistantship and a modest research expense account. The salary support helped University Scholars to conduct research full-time during the summer. Each University Scholar also worked with an external mentor whose visits to the university were facilitated by the program.
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.