A team of faculty and staff recently secured Elizabethtown College a $300,000 humanities grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The money will fund a variety of humanities-centered academic projects through a program called “Confronting Challenges with Confidence: Humanities in Our World Today.”
The funds will be divided to support several components of the program, from utilizing technology in humanities fields to incorporating local heritage and historical resources into course content.
It is currently unclear what projects this Mellon Foundation Grant will be used for, but past grants have funded everything from new interdisciplinary courses to student-faculty research projects.
According to professor of political science Dr. E. Fletcher McClellan, grants like this can help draw more students to the arts and humanities and to Etown itself.
He said all students can benefit from involvement in the humanities, whether they just take one course or pick up another major.
McClellan led the application process for the last Mellon Foundation Grant the College received a few years ago. While it is too soon to quantify the effects that grant had on the College, McClellan said he thinks it put a positive spotlight on the humanities.
“It’s hard to tell how many humanities majors there would be without these grants,” he said.
The current grant’s application process was led by Dean for Curriculum and Assessment and associate professor of history Dr. W. Brian Newsome and Dean for Academic Affairs and Faculty Development and professor of chemistry Dr. Kristi Kneas.
Kneas said she is particularly excited to see what interdisciplinary courses faculty propose.
“Any time we can infuse the curriculum with new ideas and new ways of teaching and learning, students will benefit from faculty being able to dive into interesting new things,” Kneas said.
One such faculty member was associate professor of English and Department Chair Dr. Matt Skillen. Skillen and associate professor of biology Dr. David Bowne team-taught a course titled “Ecology in Short Fiction,” using funds from a previous grant.
Students in Skillen and Bowne’s class learned about the relationship between storytelling and ecology and wrote their own science-themed short stories.
Skillen said the course allowed students to see interactions between professors from majors on opposite ends of the academic spectrum. He also pointed out that he and Bowne had an opportunity to set an example for students whenever they continued to work together after disagreeing in the classroom.
“Getting people from different disciplines together talking to each other and sharing ideas is a big deal, even at a small school like this,” Skillen said. “You can never have too much of that.”
The current grant will be able to fund up to 12 interdisciplinary courses like “Ecology in Short Fiction.” Faculty members have been at work planning possible courses, and proposals are due in the coming weeks. Some of the courses will be chosen to receive funding from the grant and be taught in the upcoming semesters.
According to McClellan, this competitive “grant-within-a-grant” process, which was also used for courses funded by the last grant, made the College’s application for the Mellon Grant stand out to the Mellon Foundation.
He said he believes this grant will build on the last one and be used for projects that are as innovative as those before them, if not more so.
“We really want faculty to come up with innovative ways to help attract, keep and graduate students in the arts and humanities,” McClellan said.
All of the grant’s projects will be implemented over the next three years. Newsome said grants like this one can bolster offerings in the arts and humanities and make those departments more attractive to prospective students, especially for small liberal arts colleges like Etown.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation often works with and funds projects for larger and better-known colleges. These schools already have strong humanities departments, so small schools like Etown sometimes struggle to attract students looking for an education that is not strictly preprofessional.
“Even students in the more preprofessional departments like business or occupational therapy need to be intellectual and ethical leaders,” McClellan said. “The humanities can help them with that.”
The College also received a grant from the BB&T Economic Growth Fund of the Lancaster County Community Foundation. This $350,000 grant is titled “Destination E-town: Creating Jobs and Sustaining Businesses in Lancaster County.”
“The first time we applied for the grant the College was turned down, which often happens when seeking grant funding,” Executive Director of Foundation and Government Relations Lesley Finney said. After the rejection, the writing team met with Foundation representatives, revised the proposal and submitted a new draft that was accepted.
Finney led the application process for this grant.
She said this grant will be like the Mellon Foundation Grant in that it will focus on projects that “strengthen research and project-based experiential learning opportunities for students.”