Mellon Foundation awards Emory $1.25 million grant for undergraduate humanities education

The grant will provide comprehensive support to humanities faculty for the development of new and enhanced curricula, classroom experiences and course innovation.

The Mellon Foundation grant will fund the Humanities Pathways initiative at Oxford College and Emory College.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Emory University a three-year, $1.25 million grant to better prepare students to convert their academic pursuits into meaningful professional opportunities in a rapidly changing world.

The grant will support the Humanities Pathways initiative at Emory College of Arts and Sciences and Oxford College of Emory University, Emory’s core liberal arts colleges for undergraduate students. It will provide comprehensive support to humanities faculty for the development of new and enhanced curricula, classroom experiences and course innovation.

“We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its support of this vital initiative,” says Dwight A. McBride, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “The Humanities Pathways initiative will position Emory University as a national leader in demonstrating how education in the humanities creates value for individual students, their communities and society more broadly.”

“As a research university with a strong liberal arts foundation, Emory strives to model for our students the vital intersections between the humanities, research and professional fields,” McBride says. “We are perfectly positioned to highlight how humanistic knowledge and capacities prepare students to become thoughtful, productive and well-rounded leaders who contribute meaningfully and successfully in our quickly evolving world of work.”

Michael A. Elliott, dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, will co-lead the Humanities Pathways initiative with Douglas A. Hicks, dean of Oxford College. Two humanities professors will serve as faculty co-directors of the Humanities Pathways project: Tasha Dobbin-Bennett, assistant professor of art history and studio art at Oxford College, and Peter Höyng, associate professor of German studies at Emory College.

“This grant will impact students in powerful ways through the faculty’s development of curricula and changes to existing courses in ways that explicitly prepare students to translate what they are learning in their coursework to post-graduate pathways,” says Elliott. “This challenge requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach. As deans, we trust the creativity of our faculty to push this initiative forward in ways that will shape undergraduate education in the humanities for many years to come.” 

A growing body of data suggests that employers seek the abilities that are central to the humanities. According to employer surveys conducted by the Association for American Colleges and Universities, four out of five employers state that all college students should acquire broad learning in the liberal arts.  

More than nine in ten of those surveyed name competencies critical to the liberal arts, and the humanities in particular — competencies such as the ability to think critically, work in diverse teams, demonstrate ethical judgment and decision-making, and communicate clearly — as being most important when they make hiring decisions. 

Meanwhile, undergraduate students (and their families) can remain uncertain about the value of a degree in the humanities. 

“We seek to equip our faculty to confidently articulate how what we teach in the humanities can transfer to the professional realm, from the ability to analyze complicated documents and data, to making nuanced arguments informed by historical and cultural context to communicating effectively. We want our students to connect their learning in humanities to the non-profit, civic and business spheres,” says Hicks. 

The grant will support several core activities for faculty, including:

  • Workshops for faculty seeking to revise or create new courses that assist students in imagining post-graduate career pathways;
  • Career Treks” to meet alumni in U.S. cities, introducing students to a wide variety of career opportunities related to their courses;
  • Faculty seminars on the history and future of work to enhance the intellectual groundwork for the overall Humanities Pathways initiative; and
  • A Humanities Connections program that will bring alumni with humanities degrees to campus to meet with students and serve as mentors for those who wish to pursue similar paths to various career fields. 

“Our undergraduates can benefit from speaking directly with leaders in the private and non-profit spheres whose paths as humanities majors have often been unpredictable yet rewarding and meaningful,” says Elliott.

“Ultimately, we seek to empower undergraduates in the humanities to plan for their futures with confidence, and these initiatives are designed to pursue this goal through the focused enhancement of humanities education and courses,” adds Hicks. “We are also excited about the collaboration between faculty members in Emory College and Oxford College that this project makes possible.” 

In addition, Emory’s location in Atlanta offers opportunities to forge partnerships with businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations that could be replicated in other metropolitan areas — and to advance the goal of articulating the value of the humanities to leaders beyond the academy. 

In advance of the Humanities Pathways Mellon Foundation grant, both Oxford College and Emory College completed a successful planning process in spring 2018 that was supported by the Mellon Foundation to gauge the feasibility of the concept, gain faculty input and investment and specify program structure and proposed initiatives.

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