$3.15 M Mellon Grant Focusing on the Humanities, Community Colleges, and Next Generation Graduate Training

By Cathy Davidson|October 20, 2015|Announcements, Reflection|2 comments

We at the Futures Initiative and HASTAC are deeply honored to be part of a visionary $3.1 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant dedicated to humanities education at the nation’s community colleges and introductory humanities education for the “new majority” of college students entering universities in the U.S. today.

Beginning in fall 2016, the Humanities Teaching and Learning Alliance will place 27 Graduate Center doctoral students at LaGuardia Community College, one of the nation’s finest and most forward-looking colleges and a national leader in engaged pedagogy. The doctoral students will gain onsite training from LaGuardia mentors and master faculty, while LaGuardia students will benefit from inspiring teaching, resources for cultural enrichment, and a humanities mentorship program.

The grant will also fund a substantial online community platform and two post-doctoral fellowships to research humanities education and digital scholarly communication.  The online community–as anyone in HASTAC or the Futures Initiative knows–will also serve as a vibrant learning network, linking peers to one another, to projects, to tools and skills, and helping to make their work visible to a larger public.
Everyone learns from everyone learning.

We are thrilled and proud to be one part of this impressive program.  We will all learn so much from this exciting program.  This program is designed to enhance and improve community college teaching of the humanities, to improve the training of doctoral students who are excited to teach these students, and—it is our firmest hope—to offer distinguished graduate professors a chance to reflect on what is truly vital, profound, deep, and even life-saving and life-changing about the humanities.

We do not do that enough.  We believe we all have much to learn from one another, that the benefits are by no means going to flow in one direction only.  Quite the opposite.

The Futures Initiative and HASTAC, in particular, are dedicated to “Changing the Way We Teach and Learn.”  The urgency of that mandate is brought home by the students entering our universities today.  At the Graduate Center, graduate training in a specialized doctoral discipline is integrated with teaching introductory courses throughout the CUNY systems.  Far more than many of their graduate professors, CUNY Graduate Center students see the every day lives of public, urban, commuter students, most of whom work part or full time jobs (sometimes both) even as they work their way through to a degree.

At community colleges, the demands of life and the demands of earning a degree are even more integrated–and in greater competition.  How do you teach Plato to a student working 60 hours a week?   Why?   There are great answers to that question, and it is very important to ask them and answer them, with seriousness, not only with your undergraduate students but with the next generation of college professors–current graduate students.

If we do this generous and visionary Mellon grant right–and we are determined to do it right–distinguished graduate faculty will also be thinking, together, about these most basic questions.  Why the humanities?  Why now?  Perhaps even why more now than ever?

It is crucially important for a profession to take the time to go inward, to examine its own assumptions, and an opportunity as novel and visionary as this holds up a mirror to everything that has gone before.  We at the Futures Initiative and at HASTAC could not be more honored to be part of what we know will be a transformative process on every level, not just for CUNY and the Graduate Center but for the nation.

 

A Forum and a Reading Group:  Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill

To begin that process, this week we have opened a student-led reading group on “Teaching the Humanities as a Survival Skill.”

We invite you to join what we hope will be a lively discussion.   Studying the humanities has been shown to help students master essential lifelong learning skills, including critical thinking, creativity, writing, historical perspective, cultural understanding, communication, collaboration, project management, and digital literacy. More than a decade of extensive research has shown that engaged, student-centered methodologies are particularly valuable in teaching disadvantaged students and underrepresented minorities, whether in the humanities or other disciplines.

On Thursday, we will be livestreaming an event at the Graduate Center, featuring several colleagues from LaGuardia Community College, on the same topic.   We will have much more information about the Mellon Grant at that time.

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With thanks . . .

In the meantime, we wish to thank all the co-directors on this grant for a summer’s hard work in putting this beautiful proposal together:  David Olan (at the Graduate Center) and Bret Eynon and Howard Wach at LaGuardia Community College.

It will be an enormous pleasure to work with the Graduate Center’s new Center for Teaching and Learning, and our new director Luke Waltzer.  The grant would not have been possible without the efforts of Futures Initiative Deputy Director Katina Rogers and our colleague Helen Koh.  And with the Center for Teaching and Learning at LaGuardia Community College, and so many members of the LAGCC community.

Deep thanks to GC Provost Louise Lennihan, GC President Chase Robinson, and LAGCC President Gail Mellow, and, of course, to Mellon Vice President Mariët Westermann and her colleagues at the Mellon Foundation for their most generous support.

We look forward to a great year–and beyond!

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PRESS RELEASE

The Graduate Center
The City University of New York

$3.15M Mellon Foundation Grant Awarded to GC for Humanities Teaching and Learning

The Graduate Center has been awarded a major $3.15 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will broaden doctoral student training and improve humanities education for approximately 2,500 undergraduates at LaGuardia Community College.

Beginning in fall 2016, the Humanities Teaching and Learning Alliance will enable Graduate Center Ph.D. students to teach humanities courses based on methodologies proven to benefit all learners—especially disadvantaged students and underrepresented minorities—whether in the humanities or other disciplines. The goal is not only to increase retention and graduation rates for community college students, but also to open pathways to potential advanced degrees in the humanities.

Community colleges have emerged as an increasingly vital sector of higher education, enrolling nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates—predominantly first-generation, low-income, economically disadvantaged students. More than two-thirds of LaGuardia students come from families making $25,000 a year or less. The Mellon award helps improve learning for these “new majority” students, while establishing a national model for translating specialized knowledge and research skills into the best classroom practices.

“The Humanities Teaching and Learning Alliance advances our commitment to research and teaching—the very best research and teaching—as a public good,” said Dr. Chase F. Robinson, President of the Graduate Center. “There is no other graduate school in the country that takes more seriously its public responsibilities, or generates more equity. The Mellon Foundation award helps us enhance doctoral training by partnering with LaGuardia Community College, leveraging the extraordinary scale and integration of the University system.”

Studying the humanities has been shown to help students master essential lifelong skills, including critical thinking, creativity, writing, historical perspective, cultural understanding, communication, collaboration, project management, and digital literacy. Yet rarely do graduate humanities programs train students in the most effective ways to teach.

Through the Mellon grant, Graduate Center students will gain onsite training from LaGuardia mentors and master faculty, while LaGuardia students will benefit from inspiring teaching and resources for cultural enrichment. A select group of LaGuardia students will be offered opportunities to become peer mentors, enhancing the likelihood of success for both the mentors and those they support, as research shows. The grant will also fund a substantial online community platform and two post-doctoral fellowships to research humanities education and digital scholarly communication.

“With the catalytic support of this grant, the Graduate Center will develop for the first time a system for placing graduate teaching fellows in a community college,” said Mariët Westermann, Vice President at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “This initiative addresses two key priorities for the Mellon Foundation: strengthening the training of doctoral students for teaching in diverse classrooms and improving access to the humanities across the American population and system of higher education.”

While Graduate Center students already teach many thousands of CUNY undergraduates every year, the Mellon grant provides the critical support to expand to community colleges. The Mellon Foundation has funded a number of past Graduate Center initiatives, including a $2.415 million award in 2009 in support of interdisciplinary scholarship.

“The Center for Teaching and Learning at LaGuardia Community College will do what it does best: provide high-quality training and support for graduate students using innovative teaching pedagogies and experiential learning methods,” said Dr. Gail O. Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College. “We’re honored to collaborate with our colleagues across the University on this creative endeavor to strengthen and support humanities education, a vital part of every student’s path to a college degree.”

The new initiative reflects the Graduate Center’s integrated approach to doctoral education, as well as its commitment to increasing access, boosting undergraduate graduation rates, and diversifying the humanities. It also complements GC programs and partnerships within the City University of New York, which enrolls more than 480,000 degree-credit students across 24 campuses:
·        The Center for Integrated Language Communities (CILC), one of only 15 National Language Resource Centers, focuses on language education in the community college context and works with student heritage speakers at Hunter, Queens, Lehman, Staten Island, LaGuardia, Kingsborough, and Queensborough colleges;

·        The Futures Initiative (FI) draws on the University’s vast resources to develop new methods of teaching and research, with a goal of inspiring public investment in higher education;

·        The Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) prepares Graduate Center students to enter the classroom, supports their development as college teachers, and fosters innovative approaches to undergraduate education across the university;

·        Graduate Center Digital Initiatives (GCDI) encompasses a broad range of digital projects, resources, pedagogy, and scholarship.

Project Co-Directors:
·        David Olan, Professor of Music and Interim Associate Provost and Dean for Academic Affairs, The Graduate Center, CUNY;
·        Cathy N. Davidson, Distinguished Professor of English and Director of The Futures Initiative, The Graduate Center, CUNY;
·        Bret Eynon, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY

Contact:
Tanya Domi, Director of Media Relations
The Graduate Center, CUNY
tdomi@gc.cuny.edu