The University of Iowa

UI awarded grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Iowa Now


This fiscal year, University received a four-year, $1,341,000 grant to support the Obermann Center’s creation of a degree in the Graduate College in collaboration with humanities departments that choose to participate, such as African American studies, American studies, anthropology, the visual and performing arts, art history, cinematic arts, classics, communication studies, history, languages, literature, philosophy, religious studies, and rhetoric. Campus libraries and museums will also be likely partners.

Focus groups involving more than 60 UI faculty members, staff, and graduate students laid the groundwork for the proposal to explore balancing the strength of courses in these subject areas with experiential learning of skills and multimedia forms of communication along with mentoring by alumni and experts from a variety of workplaces. The goal is to prepare students for diverse careers, specifically in the non-profit sector, public policy, government, libraries, cultural administration, technology, publishing, and institutional education and research. The program will explore benefits of campus-community partnerships, team-taught courses, and funded summer internships and externships. The grant includes funding for postdoctoral fellows, graduate interns, faculty development opportunities, visiting scholars, travel to conferences, and co-learning opportunities for students, staff, faculty members, alumni, and community partners.

Teresa Mangum, director of the Obermann Center, an interdisciplinary research center that provides funding and space to more than 100 faculty and student artists, scholars, and researchers each year, said she is committed both to fostering collaboration across academic and applied disciplines and to introducing graduate students to public engagement. In the past 13 years, the Obermann Center’s Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy has trained nearly 250 students to partner with allies in the public sector. Many of these students desire to pursue careers outside of the academy. Mangum notes, too, that women, LGBTQ students, and students of color are especially drawn to careers that connect research interests with community needs.

“We are deeply grateful to the Mellon Foundation,” Mangum said. “While we often hear about the devaluing of the humanities, I proposed this grant because I hold the opposite view. Our work these next few years presumes that humanities scholars can contribute much-needed commitment to culture, values, careful research, historically and culturally sensitive practices, and civic dialogue to every sector. Increasingly, businesses as well as political, nonprofit, and cultural organizations see the importance of humanistic values—commitment to equity, inclusion, justice, empathy, and compassion—and humanistic methods and emphases on interpretation, storytelling, and meaning-making.”

In preparing the grant, Mangum consulted with policymakers and leaders of museums and non-profits, finding interest on all sides. She also met with executives from several companies in Des Moines to gauge their interest in hiring—as interns or permanent employees—graduates earning humanities doctorates. She heard widespread appreciation for the cultural knowledge, research and analytical skills, and writing abilities graduates of humanities PhD programs could bring to a workplace. Her work was also influenced by the yearlong experiments with new forms of writing in the humanities supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Next Generation Humanities PhD grant, led by then UI Professor Judith Pascoe.



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