SPARTANBURG, S.C. – In its commitment to the preservation of the core of the liberal arts, Wofford College will use a $100,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to enhance learning in the general education curriculum through a renewed emphasis on writing and by further integrating information literacy, undergraduate research, electronic portfolios and the digital humanities.

Wofford was invited this spring by the Mellon Foundation to apply for the grant, which was awarded this week to the project, called “Building Core Strength: A Liberal Arts Inflected Approach to Writing, Research and Digital Literacy.” 

The college’s two-year incubator project began this semester. The project involves phasing in electronic portfolios, or ePortfolios, in required Humanities 101 seminars, Community Engagement in the Arts, Foundations of American Government and Philosophy in the fall semesters and incorporating digital humanities (the intersection of the humanities and computational methods of research) in English 102 (Literature and Composition) in the spring semesters. 

“The combined work of the two faculty teams – the ePortfolio team and the digital humanities team – will promote better writing and communication, better research skills, critical thinking and understanding of the provenance of materials,” says Dr. Dennis M. Wiseman, Wofford’s provost. “Both teams will partner throughout the project with two Wofford librarians who will bring their expertise in information literacy directly to these first-year classrooms.” 

Following the grant period, Wiseman continues, “this work will converge and a critical mass of faculty will have been introduced to ePortfolios and the digital humanities.” 

The invitation to pursue the grant came at “a pivotal moment in the college’s history,” says President Nayef H. Samhat, as the college is involved in a strategic visioning process and “as we carve a plan for the future in an increasingly complex higher education landscape as a small, residential undergraduate institution dedicated to the liberal arts. Wofford has not wavered in its commitment to learning grounded in the humanities, but has thoughtfully pursued innovation that raises student engagement in the liberal arts disciplines.”

The project will help “reframe the narrative of the high impact practice of undergraduate research,” Wiseman says, expanding on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines that traditionally have been the entry point for undergraduate research, making humanities disciplines “another engagement point for research early in students’ matriculation. We believe this will broaden the student experience in these disciplines and create greater student interest in these fields of study.”

Dr. John D. Miles, dean of the Center for Innovation and Learning at Wofford, says, “This project is student-centered and brings emerging technologies and information literacy into the early experiences of our students. The hope is that ePortfolios will help students better articulate their experiences across their four years at Wofford, including interdisciplinary, co-curricular and extra-curricular work.

“In English 102, we hope bringing digital work into a humanities course will help students see the dynamic nature of humanities in a changing academic landscape,” Miles says.

He adds: “Furthermore, ePortfolios are student-owned and can be reshaped for prospective employers, entry into graduate school and capturing the beginnings of their professional lives. They also provide rich assessment data for the college to help us better understand student learning, student engagement and reflection.”

In late 2013, Wofford College and Converse College jointly received a $75,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their library services in the digital information age.