Through a $454,000 grant announced Monday, the National Endowment for the Humanities will help Hastings College develop a new program aimed at “rebuilding students’ faith” in the U.S. political system as an expression of the ideals that spawned it.
The project, called “Promoting Civic Faith and Sustaining the Humanities in South Central Nebraska,” will be supported by federal money allocated to NEH under the American Rescue Plan, a response to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.
The one-year term of the grant begins Jan. 1, 2022. Hastings College was among 90 U.S. colleges and universities selected to receive ARS funds through the humanities organization.
In all, NEH will provide grants to nearly 300 cultural and educational institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Directors of the Hastings College project will be Robert Babcock, professor of history, and Robert Amyot, professor of political science.
Jonas Prida, the college’s vice president for academic and student affairs, hailed the grant award in a news release.
“The NEH’s selection of Hastings College for this award is an incredible honor for all our faculty, staff and, most importantly, students,” Prida said. “The grant will help Hastings continue to demonstrate the value of a liberal arts education in the 21st century and how creative thinking and problem solving support a shared mission of holistic student growth and achievement.”
As part of the project, Hastings College will develop a proposed bachelor of philosophy degree mainly for students planning to continue their education at the graduate level, seeking a graduate or professional degree.
Currently, undergraduate students at Hastings College earn bachelor of arts or bachelor of music degrees.
The project also will support creating new interdisciplinary emphasis areas in civic faith and medical humanities and expanding general education requirements to include religious studies and civics.
Under the HC academic program as revamped in 2019, all students select a major, a minor or second major, and an IDEA (interdisciplinary emphasis area), which is defined as a collection of courses crafted by faculty allowing students to explore an interest area or passion.
Amyot said the aim of “promoting civic faith” is to help students understand the American system of government in relation to the ideals from which it has been developed over nearly two-and-a-half centuries.
“Students today get their information about American democracy and how it’s supposed to work from a variety of often inaccurate or shallow sources,” Amyot said in the news release. “This project will allow them to take courses that address the goals and ideals that the Founders held, implicitly or explicitly, and how those have been understood and implemented over time. Courses in history, literature, philosophy, religion and politics are crucial to rebuilding students’ faith in our political system and the ideals behind it.”
The ARP funding also is to be used to otherwise support and enhance humanities education at the college, a private, four-year liberal arts institution affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) with a history of rich programs in the humanities — academic disciplines that address aspects of human society and culture, including philosophy, religion, languages and literatures, linguistics, history, and the arts.
The grant will provide salary support for three current and new humanities faculty and two one-year post-doctoral fellows, as well as a new humanities admissions counselor.
“New courses and innovative programs developed through this grant will generate interest from prospective and current students, whatever their majors, and that interest will build enrollment in the humanities,” Babcock said. “Humanities faculty, we hope, will further benefit from professional development opportunities that will strengthen their classroom teaching and their engagement with students.”
The plan calls for the college to work with faculty members from Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, to offer a summer workshop for humanities faculty designing new courses for the expanded curriculum.
Special attention will be given to integrating service learning and project-based learning into academic courses.
One of the Susquehanna faculty, Nick Clark, is a 2002 graduate of Hastings College. He is an associate professor of political science at the university there and has been co-director an NEH Humanities Connections program.
This is the second time NEH has steered pandemic relief funding to Hastings College. In 2020, the college received a $300,000 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act grant for development of hybrid and online courses.