Humanities faculty play important part in extended gift from Mellon Foundation

The recent news that the Mellon Foundation extended its support for humanities students was celebrated across the university

The grant continues the foundation’s support of the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative (CHC), which is led by English’s Kurt Koenigsberger, religious studies’ Brian Clites and the organization’s associate director, Lisa Nielson. In this phase of funding, the CHC will receive $1.49 million.

We asked Nielson and Clites to provide us with background on the CHC and what types of programs are being offered:

What is the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative?

photo of Brian Clites

Brian Clites

The Cleveland Humanities Collaborative builds pathways between Case Western Reserve and our community partners. Students in the CHC program can take free classes at CWRU while they work towards their associate degree. After they finish community college, many of the students go on to matriculate at CWRU or another 4-year institution. Our partners are Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Lakeland Community College (LCC) and Lorain County Community College (LCCC).

How does the program work?

Community college students who are eligible for the CHC often begin by taking a class or two at Case Western Reserve as CHC Students, in addition to working towards associate degrees at their respective college. Those students who have been accepted to and choose to matriculate at CWRU become CHC Scholars. There are peer mentors who provide additional support for these students and scholars, as well as the CHC team at Tri-C, and administrators and transfer specialists at LCC and LCCC.

Through the program, we support dually enrolled students who are interested in transferring to a 4-year institution, enabling them to take a class at CWRU while finishing their associate degree. We help them with every aspect of the transfer process—in partnership with Student Affairs and admission’s Eric Sustar—assisting with navigating the Common App, completing the FAFSA and CSS profile, and providing letters of support for each student for their application file. 

You also have the Summer Collaboratory initiative. How does it help students?

Last summer, we piloted our first ever residential Summer Collaboratory, bringing 20 community college students interested in humanities to live on the CWRU campus for 4 weeks. There were nearly 50 applications and the students came from our 3 partner community colleges.  

The participants had the opportunity to experience living on campus and worked on research projects. For many, it was a transformative experience and we are hosting our second collaboration this June.

Who are some of the people in the college working behind the scenes?

photo of Lisa Nielson

Lisa Nielson

Kurt Koenigsberger has held the CHC director role for 8 years. Brian Clites is co-director, and I’m the associate director. Our predecessors were Molly Berger as director, who, along with Beth Trecasa, was one of the architects of the CHC. My predecessor was the marvelous Allison Morgan who built the program manager role, and is now at Tri-C in the Transfer Center.  

How successful have the CHC students been since the start of the program?

Since the program started in 2015, 72 students have taken at least one class and applied to CWRU. Of those, 55 were accepted and 47 of those accepted students matriculated here. CHC students accounted for 9% of all transfers with 63% of them being humanities-focused transfers. There are also students who chose not to matriculate here but have gone on to other 4-year institutions, including Stanford University, Kent State University and Baldwin Wallace College.

After graduation, CHC students have continued to earn graduate and professional degrees, as well as work in a variety of fields. Of the latter, our students work in libraries, law offices, corporations and not-for-profit organizations.

Tell us about the history and direction of the summer faculty seminar

The summer faculty seminar has grown considerably over the years. It began with a one week seminar, and in the second phase of funding from the Mellon Foundation, the CHC partnered with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards for the seminar.  

The seminar went from one to two weeks, and last summer we had the largest group of on-campus participants with 27 faculty, staff and community educators from around Northeast Ohio and several historically black colleges and universities.  

Under Phase III, we will shift more towards faculty professional development at the seminars, and will offer just one seminar. Our leader this summer is Derrick Williams, professor of communication at Tri-C and long-time ally/mentor for CHC students.