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UD faculty, staff develop new first-year humanities experience with $100K grant

By Dave Larsen

The University of Dayton’s Catholic, Marianist mission to educate the whole person is embodied in a new mini-course for first-year students being developed with a $100,000 grant from the Social Science Research Council.

The course, “Educating the Whole Person: Head, Heart and Hands,” will be piloted during the 2022-23 academic year. It integrates many elements of the UD student experience, including experiential learning, vocational discernment, micro-credentials and the Humanities Commons program, which engages students with fundamental questions about human life and values.

“The intent of this mini-course is to build on those things that make a UD education unique and even to focus them in a particular way,” said Liz Mackay, associate professor of English and coordinator of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Commons program.

Karen Lovett, director of experiential learning, will lead the project with assistance from Mackay and Stephen Wilhoit, professor of English and director of faculty career enhancement in the Ryan C. Harris Learning and Teaching Center.

The one-year grant was awarded by the Social Science Research Council’s Sustaining Humanities Infrastructure Program (SHIP), with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. SHIP is intended to offer relief to humanities programs and institutions affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For seven years, the University’s First-Year Arts Immersion gave undergraduate students in the Humanities Commons program the opportunity to attend an off-campus ballet, opera or symphonic performance linked to their humanities coursework. The program, a partnership with the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance, was discontinued in 2020 because of pandemic-related budget cuts.

“A lot of programs at schools that focus on the humanities, things like the arts immersion, have gotten cut,” Wilhoit said. “The NEH was looking for proposals to help fill that gap.”

The new mini-course builds on current public or applied humanities approaches that connect humanities concepts and skill-building to real-world challenges. It will include an experiential learning project focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

In collaboration with the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community, students will work with one of the University’s more than 60 community partners. Using the Dayton Arcade as a space for meetings and roundtable discussions, students will engage with community members with diverse perspectives and identities.

“This is an opportunity to give some of our first-year students a common experience that brings them into the wider Dayton community,” Mackay said.

Students will read a core set of humanities texts and engage with faculty to connect their learning experiences to personal, academic, professional and vocational goals and aspirations. They will develop a portfolio with learning journey roadmaps and reflective narratives linking the readings to their community-engaged experience. They will present their portfolios at the Stander Symposium and have the opportunity to earn a micro-credential for creative skills.

“By combining the study of those key texts, working out in the community with partners, and reflecting hard about their own life journey, where they are going and what their values and principles are — that’s the vocation part — we hope this can open the doors to some greater appreciation for the role the humanities can play in their education at UD and their lives afterward,” Wilhoit said.

Course development started in June and will continue through the 2022 fall semester. The project leaders are working with 15 faculty representing the Humanities Commons areas — English, history, philosophy and religious studies — as well as accounting, art and design, biology and engineering, among others. Campus collaborators also include Career Services and the Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation.

From January to March, project participants will finalize the curriculum and develop classroom materials. They will share course development updates in January at the 2023 Learning Teaching Forum, an annual UD conference focused on education theory and practice.

Educating the Whole Person will be piloted as a mini-course from March 1 to April 30. Mini-courses differ from traditional courses in their degree of flexibility. The project leaders plan to refine the course based on surveys and data assessments of student learning and project outcomes, with the goal of fully integrating the course into the academic curriculum starting in the 2023 fall semester.

For more information, visit the Humanities Commons website.

Photo (from left to right) Stephen Wilhoit, Karen Lovett and Elizabeth Mackay

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