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Deans' Pop-Up addresses integrating aspects of liberal arts across campus

The latest Deans’ Pop-Up focused on how the Mellon Humanities Pathways Project and other collaborations can enhance educational experiences. Leading the conversation were (L-R) Dean Douglas A. Hicks of Oxford College; Dean Michael A. Elliott of Emory College of Arts and Sciences; assistant professor Tasha Dobbin-Bennett; and professor Peter Höyng.

Faculty from across Emory came together at Oxford College on Wednesday, Oct. 16, for the first Deans’ Pop-Up of the 2019-2020 academic year. The session centered on how cross-school and cross-unit collaboration can create expanded opportunities for students to learn about the broad applicability of a liberal arts education. 

Provost Dwight A. McBride welcomed the group of approximately 70 attendees. Panel members included Dean Douglas A. Hicks of Oxford College; Dean Michael A. Elliott of Emory College of Arts and Sciences; Tasha Dobbin-Bennett, assistant professor of art history and studio art at Oxford College; and Peter Höyng, professor of German studies at Emory College.

The afternoon’s theme was “Cross-School Collaborations to Enhance the Emory Undergraduate Experience.” Deans Hicks and Elliott introduced the topic and its importance to all Emory undergraduate students and the faculty who teach them. 

Extended student experience to guide collaborations

“The question is, how can we make the best student experience possible here at the University, bringing to bear the resources of our various schools, of our campuses?” Hicks asked the crowd. “As I say to the new parents and students, no one is coming to Oxford College for a two-year experience. No one comes to Emory College for a two-year experience. We are wanting a four-year pathway that is seamless for students.” 

“We’ve also started thinking about what our students do—not only about the four-year experience, but also as pathways afterwards,” Hicks continued.

Elliott echoed the sentiment. “At a certain point, we started talking about what we’re doing to ensure our students are prepared for the four years after they’re on campus—and the four years after that, and the four years after that. We began thinking more intentionally about the work of our students after they graduate. How do we make sure our students feel empowered instead of anxious about what comes after their four years at Emory, regardless of their major?”

That line of thinking led to discussion of ways that faculty can help students start thinking about their futures. Framing education in these terms means encouraging—and empowering—faculty to work together in new ways.

Mellon Grant also encourages faculty cross-work

The Mellon Humanities Pathways Project, supported through a grant Emory received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in March 2019, is one avenue to building that framework. The grant provides comprehensive support to humanities faculty for developing new and enhanced curricula, classroom experiences and course innovation.

“We found a very willing partner in the Andrew Mellon Foundation, which funds a great deal of humanities and humanistic social sciences through scholarship and research, but also faculty development and teaching,” Elliott said.

Dobbin-Bennett and Höyng are faculty co-directors of the Mellon Humanities Pathways Project. They gave attendees an overview of core activities associated with the grant:

  • Workshops for faculty seeking to revise or create new courses that assist students in imagining post-graduate career pathways;
  • Career Treks” to meet alumni in U.S. cities, introducing students to a wide variety of career opportunities related to their courses;
  • Faculty seminars on the history and future of work to enhance the intellectual groundwork for the overall Humanities Pathways initiative; and
  • A Humanities Connections program that will bring alumni with humanities degrees to campus to meet with students and serve as mentors for those who wish to pursue similar career paths.  

Faculty workshops and seminars that encourage participants to engage with colleagues from across humanities disciplines have already begun, with encouraging results.

“One of the most amazing things for me while sitting in the first workshop was hearing our faculty talk to one another, not only about research and their topics, but their true passion that they bring to the classroom and their desire to communicate what we do with great excellence to our students,” Dobbin-Bennett said. “Many of the faculty mentioned that they would love more time to sit with their colleagues across disciplines to discuss what they’re doing in the classroom, to share a vocabulary and to move forward by being shepherds of our content and our fields for our students.”

“This is a grant that is driven by faculty involvement and engagement, therefore transmitting it to the undergraduate experience,” Höyng added. “One of the big side effects that this grant will have is that faculty from Oxford College and the Atlanta campus actually get to know each other and collaborate. It’s a simple way to start thinking as One Emory.”

Shifting from a “silo” mindset to cross-collaboration can bring challenges, but Höyng, Dobbin-Bennett and others are excited about the potential long-term results associated with work through the Mellon Humanities Pathways Project.

Faculty members from various professional schools added perspective on how the undergraduate experience at Emory can increasingly be enhanced by connections to medicine, nursing, public health, business, law and doctoral education. 

“These grants can spark something,” Höyng said. “At this point, just three months in, we don’t know what kind of institutional framework might grow out of it within the next three years that will have a lasting effect.”

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