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College awarded 1 million dollars from Mellon Foundation


Beginning October 1, Grinnell College will receive its first installment of a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The competitive grant was awarded after a nearly two-year long selection process and will provide funds that will go toward a series of innovations for the humanities at Grinnell.

To manage the use of the Mellon Foundation grant, the College has developed a three-pillar plan. It’s primary focus is on curricular development, followed by community-engaged learning and lastly humanities in the post-graduate life. “We narrowed in on a proposal we called Humanities in Action,” says Edward Cohn, history, one of the architects of the initiative.

Much of the grant will be earmarked for so-called “gateway courses.” These classes will cover specific themes and be designed to get students involved in the social sciences, arts and English. “There have been changes in enrollment, and shift away from the humanities,” stated Cohn, “[We want] courses that seem likely to welcome students into humanistic studies.”

Although they are still being planned out, there are already several possibilities for what these new courses may be. It’s likely that, in addition to new introductory classes, more cross-disciplinary 200-level courses will be created. Extra-departmental courses, modeled off of existing classes such as History-100, could also be in the works. In regard to what kind of class the College is looking for, professor Cohn said, “We’re open to any kind of course that shows the power of the humanities in a way that’s likely to welcome students.”

The College also plans on using the grant to finance Grinnell faculty member’s cross-institutional work. “For instance, if there’s somewhere they want to travel to see how someone else is doing something, or if there’s someone they want to bring to campus, [they can do that],” said Susan Sanning, Associate Dean and Director of Service & Social Innovation who is, along with Cohn, in charge of overseeing the grant. The goal is to foster a culture of humanistic learning, one that draws inspiration not just from Grinnell, but also the wider world. “Why create a wheel if it’s already been created somewhere else?” said Sanning.

Fitting with Grinnell’s goal of being a service-oriented institution, the grant will also be used to create more opportunities for students to participate in community-engaged work. A new staff position has also been created to manage this effort. The College will look to build off of already existing programs, such as classes that work with local non-profits, while aiming to create “mutually beneficial” relationships. “We want to have the kind of collaborations that are community needed and driven, that also benefit students and faculty,” said Sanning.

The hope is that, from this community-based engagement, students will learn about the applied value of the humanities. The College also hopes to bring community experts into the classroom, allowing students to learn directly from them.

The final aspect of the grant concerns the role of humanities in post-grad life. A major component of this plan is a pilot “faculty fellow” program. If put into action, this would see faculty members participate in existing CLS initiatives such as career treks and workshops in an effort to promote careers and further study in the humanities. Additionally, the College also wants to tell the stories of alumni who have succeeded in humanistic fields. It hopes to showcase the success previous students have had in fields such as English and the arts through various means, potentially including visits and talks.

Although it only recently won the $1 million Mellon Foundation grant, Grinnell College already has myriad ideas about how to best use it. The money will be awarded in installments until 2023. Over the course of the next four years, be on the lookout for new classes and programs — it is very likely they were created, at least in part, with the help of the grant.

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