A Passionate Degree

By Arthur Evenchik
Annual donor Erin Bennett expresses her commitment to education in the arts and humanities.

A headshot of Erin Bennett

Erin Bennett says that the qualities and skills she developed as an art history major at CWRU have been essential to her success.

Even at a stage in her life when she didn’t have a full-time job, Erin Bennett (CAS ’94) donated to causes she believed in. Philanthropy, she says, is a family tradition.

In the fall of 2000, Bennett was working for a temp agency when she made her first contribution to the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve. Although she calls it a small gift, she felt that it was meaningful. “I think you give what you can,” Bennett says. “It’s not the dollar amount that matters, because it all adds up. I think it’s part of our responsibility to the greater community to help where we have an interest or a passion.”

Bennett majored in art history as an undergraduate, and after learning she could designate gifts to the Department of Art History and Art through the College Fund, she became an annual donor. The arts and humanities have always been important to her, and this value, too, she attributes to her upbringing. Bennett’s mother is a literary scholar, her father a minister. Her family collected art and was deeply involved in the local arts community. For her tenth birthday, her grandfather gave her a book on art conservation, and for years she thought seriously about pursuing a career in that field.

As a CWRU undergraduate, Bennett especially enjoyed the classes she took with Walter Gibson, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and a scholar of Northern Renaissance art. And she still has the books that Gibson and her other art history professors assigned in their courses.

After completing her studies, Bennett returned to her native Boston and worked for nearly five years at the Museum of Fine Arts. Then she began exploring other opportunities as an office temp, gaining experience in a variety of settings until she found her niche. In 2003, Bennett joined City Year, an AmeriCorps program that enlists young people to serve as tutors, mentors and role models in high-need schools across the country. Today she is the organization’s senior director for federal grants management, a position she has held since 2012.

All along the way, Bennett says, she has benefited from the humanities education she received at Case Western Reserve. The study of art helped her develop her analytical side. It taught her to be detail oriented, and it made her a capable researcher and writer. These qualities and skills have been essential to her success in the nonprofit sector.

In 2003, Bennett earned an MBA—a credential she calls her “logical degree.” In contrast, she thinks of her BA as her “passionate degree.” Now, through her annual gifts, she expresses her commitment to educating a new generation of art history students at Case Western Reserve.

“Your college years help shape you and give you a mindset on how you’re going to approach the world,” Bennett says. “I want to give back to the college, and particularly to the art history department, so that young people can continue to have the same kinds of experiences that I had.”