Union has been awarded a $250,000 presidential leadership grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to strengthen its Adirondack Studies initiative.
The three-year grant will develop a new Adirondack mini-term, which will combine classroom work with experiential learning though guided trips to local communities, historic sites and places that will educate students about a region that has influenced writers, artists and philosophers. It will also help provide greater accessibility to the Adirondack Research Library, which is housed at the College’s Kelly Adirondack Center.
These pilot mini-terms will be offered to students free of the fees normally associated with a mini-term.
The grant will also support opportunities for broad faculty development. This includes an Adirondack Study Group composed of participating faculty members
and the faculty leader for the mini-term. This group will present and share ideas to inspire discussion and intellectual exploration of the Adirondacks, place identity and regional issues. A Faculty Development Institute will offer training for interested faculty on how to incorporate the resources of the Adirondack Research Library into their teaching.
The Study Group and Faculty Development Institute will promote multidisciplinary perspectives on the Adirondacks and material from library collections into course content with a particular emphasis on the arts and humanities. For example, a course with the theme “Place Identity” could include The Birth of the Adirondack Environmental Movement and its Continuing Influence, or Landscape Painting and Nature Writing in the 19th Century.
Faculty and students will also contribute articles to the Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, published by The Adirondack Research Consortium and the Kelly Adirondack Center.
“We are tremendously excited about what this grant will enable us to do in our Adirondack Studies initiative,” said Strom Thacker, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “We will be able to build on an existing strength and offer novel programming and research opportunities for students and faculty alike.”
As part of the initiative, Thacker announced that Doug Klein, the Kenneth B. Sharpe Professor of Economics, has been named faculty director of the Kelly Adirondack Center.
In addition, the grant will support efforts to process and publicize collections within the Adirondack Research Library to make them more accessible to scholars. A key element will be the hiring of an archivist for the library to catalogue the material.
The library boasts a unique collection of material on the Adirondack Park and the New York State Forest Preserve, including rare books, maps, photographs, documents and the personal papers of some of the region's foremost conservationists.
The archivist and librarians will be significant contributors to the faculty Adirondack Study Group, participating in shared readings, lectures and other activities using the resources of the research library and Schaffer Library’s Special Collections.
Faculty will also be encouraged to use the collection to develop exhibits and class assignments.
Union faculty and alumni have been involved in the Adirondacks for well over a century. Numerous faculty members have conducted research in the Adirondacks and incorporated it into their courses. The College also has hosted a number of academic conferences and symposia centered on the Adirondacks, and the six-million-acre Adirondack Park is a destination for student field trips.
Located three miles from campus in Niskayuna, the College’s Kelly Adirondack Center includes the former home of noted Adirondack conservationist Paul Schaefer (1908-1996) and the Adirondack Research Library.
Since Union acquired the property on St. David’s Lane in 2011 from a private conservation group, the center has hosted a series of public lectures, exhibits and musical events related to the Adirondacks.
President Stephen C. Ainlay noted the Mellon grant supports a key component of Union’s strategic plan, which encourages the College to leverage its location in upstate New York, including its proximity to Adirondack Park.
“We are grateful for the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in helping us advance our Adirondack Studies initiative,” Ainlay said. “Enhancements to Kelly Adirondack Center and the Adirondack Research Library collection that is housed there will benefit our entire region. The award will also enrich a multidisciplinary understanding of this remarkable part of New York.”
Since Ainlay became president in 2006, this is the third grant from the Mellon Foundation in support of presidential initiatives. In 2007, Union received a $50,000 discretionary grant that was used to support the integration of liberal arts and engineering. This included the creation of an annual symposium in the spring, which has attracted national attention, including a feature in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
In 2014, Union received a $150,000 grant to enhance the curriculum through cross-disciplinary global experiences for faculty with trips to China and Berlin.