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UMN Morris Awarded $137,000 Mellon Foundation Grant

Professor Tracy Otten working in the studio with a student
Jenna Ray
Publication date: 
June 7, 2018
  • The campus will use the 20-month planning grant to strengthen the place and the understanding of the humanities.
  • The Engaged and Engaging Humanities will help transform the ways in which UMN Morris engages students in liberal arts education for the 21st century.

The University of Minnesota Morris has earned a $137,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The award supports an Engaged and Engaging Humanities initiative, which will engage students, faculty members, and the larger community in reimagining the role of the humanities as vital and broadly relevant to a modern liberal arts curriculum.


Three key activities frame the Engaged and Engaging Humanities initiative. A speaker series will stimulate campus and community conversation by bringing dynamic speakers to discuss the role and influence of the humanities in their lives. Opportunities for faculty-student research partnerships will emphasize cross-disciplinary engagement with the humanities. Ideas generated from these activities can then be built on by faculty to create courses that model for Morris students how the humanities can and should be a central part of their studies, whatever their majors.

According to Janet Schrunk Ericksen, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean, this initiative is particularly fitting for the Morris campus, given its unique responsibility and role as a public liberal arts college in rural Minnesota. Moreover, Morris is the most diverse campus of the University of Minnesota System and enrolls more than 40 percent first-generation college students. Many students arrive on campus with a limited understanding of the definition or significance of a liberal arts education.

"Among students' families and in the surrounding community, practicality is often prized and can be seen as being in opposition to the liberal arts and especially the humanities. Yet liberal arts graduates are valued by employers," she says. "If our identity as a liberal arts college is to continue to carry significant weight in student recruiting and retention, we must find more effective ways to demonstrate how widely used humanities approaches and knowledge are."


This award comes at an ideal time for Morris. The campus is developing a new strategic plan, to be finalized in 2019. Its early work included campuswide discussions on "Innovation in the Liberal Arts" and related topics, so the charge and timelines of the visioning process and Engaged and Engaging Humanities initiative align perfectly.

"Morris has both the opportunity and the necessity to explore ways to make the centrality of the humanities clearer to students and larger audiences," says Ericksen.


Faculty-student research projects will begin as soon as this summer, although the first official call for proposals will go out for the 2018–19 academic year. Questions about research projects or course development would be welcomed by Ericksen.


Ultimately, the project will lead to a more clearly purposeful general education curriculum that includes meaningful humanities programming. Combined with a new strategic plan, it will help transform the ways in which Morris engages students in liberal arts education for the 21st century.