posted September 29, 2009

Major Grant Funds Arts and Humanities Research Program

A major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is funding a new program at Hope College designed to deepen students' scholarship in the arts and humanities through collaborative, interdisciplinary research projects and the use of digital technologies.

The foundation has awarded Hope $200,000 to create the "Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities."  The program, which will begin in the fall of 2010, will involve select students in a series of new courses beginning their sophomore year and enable them across the rest of their time at Hope to develop research projects in areas of scholarly interest with faculty mentors, with a particular emphasis on teaching them how to use new and emerging digital technologies in pursuing and sharing their work.

"The Mellon program will build upon the college's long tradition of student-faculty collaborative scholarship by offering a unique opportunity to students who are passionate about the arts and humanities and want to deepen their learning," said Dr. James Boelkins, provost at Hope.  "Through coursework and collaborative research, they will become better learners and better writers, and will be better prepared for graduate school or the workplace."

The program's director and lead writer of the grant proposal, Dr. William Pannapacker, associate professor of English, based the program on the honors concentration in history and literature at Harvard University, where he was a lecturer before coming to Hope in 2000.

"By encouraging students to undertake original scholarship, working closely with faculty mentors," Pannapacker said, "the program is designed to help students compete for admission to graduate programs at the very top of their academic fields, international prizes and scholarships, as well as the most competitive internships and entry-level positions in a variety of occupations."

As he has conducted his own scholarship on Atlantic studies and the digital humanities, Pannapacker has observed the increasing significance of new media not only for pursuing scholarly work but for sharing it.  He believes that the program's emphasis on the use of digital technologies will be equally crucial to the students' future success.

"We have to begin to train students to function in this new world of scholarship that involves the Internet as much as conferences and printed journals," he said.

The students will get to experience the new paradigm not only as they conduct their research at Hope, but when they've completed it.  Too often, Pannapacker said, undergraduate projects are graded and then filed away, never to be seen again.  The program plans to showcase the students' research projects online, potentially for use in other classes at Hope and even by others beyond the campus.

"We want our students to enter the scholarly conversation and speak to an even wider audience, showing the importance and pleasure of research in the arts and humanities," he said.

The program has been designed for 15 students at each upper-class level, sophomore, junior and senior.  A call for applicants will go out to the Class of 2013 later this semester and candidates for the program will be interviewed early in the spring semester.

Students' sophomore-year involvement in the Mellon Scholars Program will begin with a two-semester interdisciplinary course that will emphasize collaborative research, scholarly writing, and developing new media skills for use in the arts and humanities.  They will receive instruction in how to use the new media studio that Pannapacker is developing in the college's Van Wylen Library with support through a Hope College Technology Innovation Grant.  Faculty representing each of the college's arts and humanities departments will help teach the courses, with students selecting primary and secondary disciplines in which to pursue a major research project.

As juniors, each of the students will meet individually with a faculty mentor in a field of interest.  The faculty member will serve as an advisor, helping the student to identify ways to strengthen his or her academic program, and will also help guide the student in developing an advanced research project suitable for submission for prizes and with graduate school applications.

As seniors, the students will meet one-on-one with another faculty mentor.  They will develop a new major research project to complete by the end of the school year.

During the final two years of the program, students will have numerous opportunities to present and critique one another's work, and the most accomplished students will be encouraged to submit projects to national academic conferences.

"The program is expected to produce graduates with skills that are competitive with what's expected from graduates of master's programs," Pannapacker said.  "It will be a remarkable opportunity for those students and the faculty who get to work with them."

The participating students will also have the opportunity to compete for summer research assistantships that will enable them to engage in research full-time with a faculty member for the entire summer and to receive a salary for their work, much like students in Hope's nationally-recognized science programs.                 

While selection for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program will be competitive, Pannapacker noted that it's not necessarily the case that only straight-A students need apply.

"We're looking for students who are academically talented, interested in advanced study in the arts and humanities and eager to participate in a reshaping of the way these fields are studied and taught," he said.  "Enthusiasm and engagement will count as much as a prior record of academic achievement."

Based in New York, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was established in 1969 through the consolidation of the Avalon Foundation and the Old Dominion Foundation, which had been founded in the early 1940s by Ailsa Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon respectively.  Children of Andrew W. Mellon, they named the new foundation for their father, an entrepreneur and philanthropist whose public service had included serving as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and ambassador to Britain.

The foundation makes grants in six core program areas:  higher education and scholarship; scholarly communications; research in information technology; museums and art conservation; performing arts; and conservation and the environment.  The foundation's grant-making philosophy is to build, strengthen and sustain institutions and their core capacities, rather than to be a source for narrowly defined projects.