/ General Education

Grand Challenges Initiative

A major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation  brings together faculty and students from multiple divisions and disciplines in exploring “grand challenges” — the important issues facing the world in which the students are preparing to live and work.

The college received an $800,000, three-year grant from the foundation to establish the “Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative,” through which Hope has developed linked courses across the disciplines and established faculty-student research opportunities built around large-scale, relevant themes — like, for example, post-conflict reconciliation, religious coexistence, globalization or freedom of speech. In addition to addressing the questions themselves, the program also models how bringing together the skills and insights of multiple disciplines provides the best hope of addressing complex issues.

The initiative provides new courses and a new emphasis in the college’s general education program as well as collaborative faculty-student research opportunities in the summer, both of which have long histories at the college. The Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative began fall 2017 and supports the development of about six projects per semester, involving two or more faculty members, developing a potential total of about 50 new linked courses.

The courses are selected from proposals submitted by professors interested in teaching them, drawing upon their unique strengths, with the expectation that the proposals will involve at least one general education course and potential engagement with students from across the disciplines. In keeping with the program’s goals, requirements include involvement by at least two faculty from different academic divisions (arts, humanities, natural and applied sciences, and social sciences); a topic reflecting the “grand challenges” theme; potential summer research opportunities for students; and a plan for sharing the research results through poster presentations, involvement in professional conferences and the development of online projects similar to those created by students in the college’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities since 2010.

The initiative also helps to create a larger continuity within the rest of the college’s curriculum. While the courses can be for any level of student, a new freshman-level First-Year Seminar, for example, could lead into a similarly-themed course in chemistry or religion or psychology, or into a cross-disciplinary program such as environmental studies, and ultimately perhaps provide guidance into choice of major and even career path.

The program ties particularly to a variety of objectives in the college’s strategic plan, “Hope for the World: 2025,” adopted in 2015, including emphasis on providing faculty-supervised experience that link intellectual skills developed through the liberal arts with vocational experiences; engaging multiple perspectives and disciplines in teaching, learning and scholarship; and enhancing cross-cultural and global learning.

Although the Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative is a separate program with its own distinct focus, it builds on the experience of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities, which integrates technology, experiential education and faculty-student collaborative research in the arts and humanities. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities began in 2010 through funding from the foundation, which provided an additional grant for the program in 2013.