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  Five Colleges, Inc., press release Date: 11/29/11 Bookmark and Share

Five Colleges Receives $1.5 Million Mellon Grant

Five Colleges, Incorporated, and its member campuses of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have received a four-year, $1.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to pursue their Curricular Innovations project. The four-year grant will fund the project’s two-pronged approach to improving the student experience by exploring digital approaches to teaching the humanities and strengthening connections between the liberal arts and professional education.

“The Curricular Innovations grant will enable the consortium to strengthen relationships and create new pathways between our liberal arts colleges and the university’s graduate and professional programs to invigorate the teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” said Five Colleges Executive Director Neal Abraham. “Similarly, strengthening use and access to digital humanities tools and techniques will support efforts of our humanities colleagues to remain current in their teaching methods and will prepare students for the more technologically enhanced environment that will be the future world of work in humanities.”

Bridging Liberal Arts and Professional Education

Called “Bridging Liberal Arts and Professional Education,” the first prong of the Mellon-funded project will look for ways to combine the best qualities of a liberal arts education—the development of critical thinking, the ability to make connections across disciplines and to communicate effectively—with preparation for specific professions.

Supported by the grant, the Five College deans are inviting collaborating groups of faculty members from the consortium’s liberal arts colleges and university professional programs to propose two-year projects bridging liberal arts and professional education. Possible areas of interest include public policy, environmental studies, business and public health. The types of activities supported by the grant could include faculty seminars, curriculum development projects, team teaching, residencies for professional practitioners and activities involving professional school graduate students in liberal arts courses.

Embedding the Digital in the Humanities

The second prong of the project, “Embedding the Digital in the Humanities,” will explore ways to use digital humanities resources and technologies as a tool for teaching humanities to liberal arts students, supporting student scholarship and preparing them for the increasingly technological environment of the working world. In practical terms, “digital humanities” can mean anything from creating online access to archived paper collections to using technology to inform and expand teaching of traditional humanities disciplines.

The fact that digital humanities techniques are already being used by consortium faculty members indicates the project should find fertile ground in Five College classrooms: A history professor at Mount Holyoke used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to study patterns of community development in late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain and France. A religion professor worked with a computer scientist at Smith to develop handwriting recognition software for author identification of early Syriac manuscripts. An art historian at Amherst took digital photos of frescoes and mosaics removed from a house in Pompeii and reassembled them to make a virtual reconstruction of the house.

This phase of the project, which will be directed by a faculty member, will have three phases: creating the infrastructure for digital humanities to thrive, integrating digital humanities into the curriculum and developing resources for its use in the classroom. Strategies for carrying out these phases will range from providing funding for faculty training to hosting experts in campus residencies to enrolling students in a summer program to learn techniques to navigate and participate in digital humanities.

Work has already begun on both aspects of the project, with calls for proposals being distributed and a project team assembled. Grant funding will continue through the 2014-2015 academic year, at which time it is expected that many of the strategies developed by the project will be incorporated into the ongoing best practices of the campuses.

Based in Amherst, Massachusetts, Five Colleges, Inc., is a nonprofit educational consortium created in 1965 to advance the extensive educational and cultural objectives of its member institutions—Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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