A major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will bring 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 has received an $800,000, three-year grant from the foundation to establish the “Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative,” through which Hope will develop linked courses across the disciplines and establish 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 will also be modeling how bringing together the skills and insights of multiple disciplines provides the best hope of addressing complex issues.

“The initiative will support faculty members working together, with students, across disciplines, on the most significant challenges of our time,” said Dr. William Pannapacker, who is the DuMez Professor of English and senior director of the initiative.  “We want them to show how the liberal arts have a transformative role to play in the world:  that everyone across the divisions can benefit from the critical thinking, creativity and performance, and also the knowledge and skills developed in complementary disciplines.”

The initiative will provide 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.  Starting in the fall of 2017, the Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative will aspire to support 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 will be selected from among 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 will 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 will also help 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.

“”I think this will help us fulfill our liberal arts mission in a way that is more relevant, vibrant and practical, and has some added payoffs for students,” said Dr. Curtis Gruenler, who is another member of the initiative’s leadership team as well as director of general education and a professor of English at Hope.  “This is a way that the academy is moving—seeing the importance of engaging multiple disciplines in solving big problems:  of addressing grand challenges.”

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 in Humanities[BROKEN LINK] began in 2010 through funding from the foundation, which provided an additional grant for the program in 2013.  Pannapacker was the program’s founding director, serving from 2009 through the spring of 2016.

In addition to Gruenler and Pannapacker, Hope faculty on the leadership team of the new Mellon Grand Challenges Initiative are: Dr. Marc Baer, who is interim dean for the arts and humanities and professor emeritus of history; Dr. Steven Bouma-Prediger, who is associate dean for teaching and learning and a professor of religion; Dr. Anne Heath, who is director of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities and an associate professor of art history; Kelly Jacobsma, who is the Genevra Thome Begg Dean of Libraries; and Dr. William Polik, who is associate dean for research and scholarship and the Edward and Elizabeth Hofma Professor of Chemistry.

A call for proposals from Hope College faculty will be released this week.