Mellon Foundation awards grant to support “Our Shared Humanities”

Publication Date

Union has been awarded a three-year $800,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to promote the integration of the arts and humanities across academic disciplines through faculty development and a series of distinctive hands-on experiences for students and faculty.

Called “Our Shared Humanities,” the initiative allows the College to build on its traditional strength of crossing disciplinary boundaries to prepare students for an increasingly diverse, global and technologically complex society.

This will be done, in part, by providing faculty with a broad range of opportunities to explore collaborations that promote the integration of the arts and humanities with other disciplines across the curriculum.

These include workshops, discussion groups and participation in conferences or other travel that bring artistic and humanistic perspectives to bear across disciplinary boundaries.

Highlights of the projects supported by the grant include:

Expansion of Union’s Faculty Development Institutes (FDI). Faculty will work in multidisciplinary teams on innovative course design that promotes student learning through creativity, active learning, social learning and a “design thinking” approach and mindset. Topics may include the flipped classroom, active learning, making things visible, metacognition and technology. Faculty from the Psychology Department will facilitate sessions as part of a lunchtime colloquial series on cognitive science.

Establishing a “Humanities Lab Series.” Working in multidisciplinary teams, students will tackle some of the challenges that humanity faces. Topics may include environmental sustainability (e.g., energy, water), global climate change, cultural and religious conflicts, or socioeconomic inequality. This initiative builds on the success of the Humanities Super Seminar, a multidisciplinary course typically taught in the spring by three humanities faculty that focuses on a single topic.

Creation of a Humanities Maker Community. Through its Collaborative Design Studio, an interdisciplinary research space in the Wold Center, Union aims to reframe the act of “making” from the technological to the artistic and humanistic. Students, particularly those in the arts and humanities, will be involved in cutting-edge research and design challenges as part of the burgeoning “maker” movement flourishing in the studio. The studio contains six Makerbots donated by Jenny Lawton ’85, former CEO of MakerBot, a leading firm in 3D printing, scanning and entertainment. “Pop up labs” for faculty to incorporate “making” into their courses using portable makerspaces will be designed. A Humanities Maker Faire will showcase the work of faculty and students, including artists, sculptors, writers, tech enthusiasts and others. Plans also call for curricular tie-ins that promote cross-disciplinary projects.

“With this grant, we will demonstrate to students divided by traditional science-engineering versus humanities-social sciences boundaries that study ‘on the other side’ is accessible and beneficial to them as scholars, to their careers, and to society,” said Wendy Sternberg, dean of academic departments and programs and principal investigator for the grant.

Therese A. McCarty, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, noted the grant supports a prominent feature of the College’s strategic plan, Integrative Thought and Action for the 21st Century.

“We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its generous support of our initiative that will foster the integration of the arts and humanities across academic disciplines,” McCarty said. “We believe that the arts and humanities should not be exclusive to the disciplines traditionally called the humanities – they can illuminate other disciplines in intellectually exciting and innovative ways. We are truly excited about the possibilities of 'Our Shared Humanities’ that this grant will allow us to explore.”