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CHASS Receives $350K Grant to Implement Humanities-Based Certificate Program

Stack of Books

The College of the Humanities and Social Sciences received a two-year, $350,000 grant in July from the Teagle Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to help implement an innovative humanities-based certificate program. Its goal is to introduce undergraduates across NC State to critical thinking skills in the humanities and align them with students’ career goals.

As now planned, the college’s new program — called Advanced Critical and Creative Thinking (ACCT) — will comprise a required gateway course aimed at using transformative texts to help entering students cultivate skills in humanistic critical thinking. That course will also enable students from diverse backgrounds to build a sense of community through a common learning experience.

In addition, the course will serve as the catalyst for choosing electives drawn from existing general education courses clustered around different themes. These thematic courses will offer students an intentional and coherent path that aligns their study in the humanities and social sciences with their professional aspirations.

“The grant is a significant vote of confidence in a faculty-led program that has the potential to transform the experience of many NC State students,” said history professor Noah Strote. He and English professor Jason Miller are the co-principal investigators and directors of the program — the only one of this scale taking shape within the University of North Carolina System.

The program has garnered praise from faculty members and administrators university-wide on “how useful it will be to students across all disciplines, areas of study and professional interests,” said the co-directors. Students will also be able to earn the 12-credit-hour certificate while simultaneously completing a large portion of their general education requirements without an extra financial or time burden.

The certificate will be listed on students’ transcripts. The program will continue to undergo revisions and is hoped to be implemented by the beginning of the 2024-2025 academic year. The grant amount is the highest level that Teagle-NEH offers.

Strote said a convergence of different interests makes now the right time for the college to develop the program. Those interests, he added, include the college’s new leadership and strategic plan, which aim to “center the humanities and social sciences in the larger university conversation.”

Another interest, he said, is that the college’s faculty see it as a way for the humanities to remain robust in the face of challenges to articulate their value. To that end, faculty members are driving the design of the gateway course and the certificate program.

In recent years most institutions of higher education in the U.S. have experienced a decrease in students enrolling in the humanities and faculty morale. The pandemic exacerbated the decline, noted Miller.

Importantly, the directors added, the program strives to give NC State graduates the transferable critical thinking skills employers across all industries say they want from early job applicants. Those skills include connecting ideas, solving complex problems and adapting to changing work situations.

Strote describes the required gateway course as the program’s beating heart. It relies on transformative texts to help first-year students view the world through a humanistic lens and develop ethical and productive interpersonal communication skills. Any instructor from any discipline can teach the course, he said, adding this kind of metadisciplinary approach to programming has never been done at NC State.

Miller defines transformative texts as “having the potential to transform times and people, and how we think about really big issues.” He added that a database of 100 such texts – from poems and speeches to one-act plays and court cases — has been compiled for faculty to use in teaching the gateway class.

To date, faculty members have taught pilot versions of the course during the spring and fall 2023 semesters and more sections are planned for the spring 2024 semester. The response has been positive from students and faculty alike, Miller and Strote said.

Getting to this point has been an extensive process, noted Miller. It started in Spring 2022  when the college received a $25,000 planning grant from the NEH and Teagle Foundation after showing “we had enough people and organization to put together our program,” he said.

Both grants are part of the broader Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative. It is aimed at revitalizing the role of the humanities in general education on campuses nationwide.

NC State is one of more than 60 institutions of higher education across the country to receive funding under the initiative, which was launched in 2020. Others include Stanford University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Clemson University and Vanderbilt University.

The NC State program is expected to appeal especially to students in majors outside of the humanities and social sciences. But it will be open to everyone.

Miller said the program will serve as a reminder to people across the university of “the human skills” the college has always been teaching.