$600K Mellon Foundation grant backs Clark humanities initiative

November 14, 2012

In September 2012, Clark University was awarded $600,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support Humanities Present, a new initiative of the Higgins School of Humanities that promises to have a critical impact on the Clark curriculum and to contribute to Clark’s Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP) initiative.

“This generous Mellon Foundation grant allows us to fully explore the role and potential of the humanities at Clark and through LEEP, our pioneering approach to undergraduate education,” Clark University President David Angel said.

Humanities Present is an institutional and curricular initiative at Clark University that advances the pivotal role of the humanities in liberal education and builds on Clark’s commitment to a strong humanities presence within the curriculum and in the campus culture as a whole.

“The grant is a powerful affirmation of the significant role of the humanities and the arts in the educational experience at Clark, and we are grateful for the remarkable opportunity it offers us to expand and deepen that role through public programs and faculty fellowships, innovative pedagogy, and research collaborations,” said Sarah Buie, Director of the Higgins School of Humanities. Humanities Present consists of three initiatives:

  • The New Commons is the central program of Humanities Present. Drawing on the foundations of the ongoing Difficult Dialogues initiative, the New Commons deepens community engagement and curricular innovation around timely topics, through three interdependent aspects:  Symposia events providing a public forum for lively intellectual exchange among faculty, students, and the community at large; a fellowship of faculty who participate in the symposia; and team-taught interdisciplinary courses developed in relation to the symposia.

  • The Humanities Research Collaboratives seed the formation of faculty working groups in emerging or evolving fields in the humanities. With a focus on curricular and program developments, groups will build on the core strengths of Clark’s humanities curriculum through the design of new, collaborative intra- or cross-disciplinary courses. Research, both individual and collaborative (including students), will be a key component of the program. Initial groups funded are Early Modernists Unite (EMU), the Science Fiction Research Collaborative and a group in the Digital Humanities.

  • Mindful Choices, the third program, is a guided, intensive arts-immersion experience that integrates students’ experiences in the visual arts, music or creative writing with conscious exploration of their interests and passions. Students enter the program in their sophomore or early junior years – a critical juncture in their undergraduate careers. Students reflect on their development so far and future directions (including choice of majors and concentrations) and tools and approaches that will serve them in college and beyond. 

Together, these programs will enhance humanities practices across the curriculum and strengthen the foundation for Clark’s exceptional liberal arts education and the innovative work of LEEP. Development of the Humanities Present initiative was supported by a Mellon planning grant of $100,000, awarded in late fall of 2010. Since that time, more than 70 percent of the humanities faculty (along with many non-humanities faculty) participated in aspects of the process – through 15 lunch gatherings, retreats, an advisory group, symposium planning, and faculty fellowships alongside recent symposia, Buie notes.

“I think this rich process has sparked a new faculty culture, both within the humanities at Clark and beyond,” Buie remarked, adding that [Associate Professor of English] Betsy Huang served as associate director of the Mellon initiative and was an “extraordinary collaborator and partner” on the project.

Buie also cited the work of the Mellon advisory group, which included: Professor Kristina Wilson (Visual & Performing Arts); Assistant Professor Toby Sisson (V&PA); Associate Professor Amy Richter (History); Professor Patricia Ewick (Sociology); Professor Robert Tobin (Foreign languages & Literatures); Professor James Elliott (English); and Associate Professor Timothy Downs (International Development, Community and Environment). Professor Walter Wright (Philosophy) contributed in an ex officio status.

The Humanities Present initiative is expected to sustain and further its pivotal role for the humanities, both in relationship to the LEEP initiative and in the core mission of Clark University in the years to come.

Founded in 1887 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Clark University is a small, liberal arts-based research university addressing social and human imperatives on a global scale. Nationally renowned as a college that changes lives, Clark is emerging as a transformative force in higher education today. LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) is Clark’s pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts curriculum with life-changing world and workplace experiences. Clark’s faculty and students work across boundaries to develop solutions to contemporary challenges in the areas of psychology, geography, management, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. The Clark educational experience embodies the University’s motto: Challenge convention. Change our world. www.clarku.edu