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Students to explore value of college education

Wofford professors receive $20,000 NEH grant for seminar course
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A Wofford student works on a project on his laptop in class. A $20,000 NEH grant awarded to Wofford for a "Seminar in the Humanities" for first-year students will allow students to experiment with technology for discussion, modeling practices that will adapt the traditional seminar format for the 21st century.

 
2012-04-25

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Students getting ready to enter college this fall are being bombarded with questions raised on the national level about the value and meaning of their college education. At Wofford College, two professors have developed a first-year “Seminar in the Humanities” course aimed at encouraging these students to consider the merits of their own liberal arts education as it happens.  
 

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Student with laptop

Dr. Christine Dinkins, associate professor of philosophy, and Dr. Julie Sexeny, assistant professor of English, have been awarded a $20,000 Enduring Questions Pilot Course Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is one of only 20 NEH grants awarded in a national competition that drew more than 200 applications.

The professors’ funded “How Do We Best Educate Citizens?” seminar course for first-year students will explore the purpose and function of education in a democracy. Dinkins and Sexeny will tackle the topic with students in two humanities sections this fall as well as two additional sections to be taught in the fall of 2013.

Among issues students will consider are what goals, content, and methods of education best educate citizens in a democracy. The course also will encourage students to foster an intellectual community with peers in their entering class and to consider the merits of their own liberal arts education as it happens.

Sexeny says she drew inspiration for the Enduring Questions grant project from the current debate about accountability for student learning in higher education. “The questions we ask resonate with the debate at the local and national level regarding a crisis in education,” she says. “We wanted to develop a course that would invite students to consider the meaning and purpose of higher education as they were embarking on their own experience of it.” She adds that the course also will allow students to experiment with technology for discussion, modeling practices that will adapt the traditional seminar format for the 21st century.

Dinkins says she hopes students will immediately apply lessons from the course to a new understanding of themselves as citizens. “I’m excited that the first seminars will run in fall 2012, when many of our students will be voting for the first time in a national election. We anticipate students will perceive the questions we study as exceptionally relevant, given that context.” Both professors say they hope the course takes them on a journey with their students, together exploring pathways to an engaged Wofford education and a lifelong sense of citizenship.

“‘Enduring Questions’ is a new NEH program that has been very well received across the country,” Wofford President Benjamin B. Dunlap says. “This year, fewer than 10 percent of applications were funded, so this news puts us in exclusive company. More importantly, all our students will benefit immensely from the work that two very talented faculty members are doing to focus and improve our first-year experience.”

The current NEH grant project builds on the foundation laid by collaborative faculty work funded by a 1973 NEH grant that launched the first-year humanities seminars at Wofford. The college won that $400,000 grant – the largest ever made at that time to an institution of higher education in the Carolinas – with a proposal that advocated the educational advantage of exploring value questions in small classes led by professors from various disciplines.