Humanities in Higher Education Program Awarded Prestigious Federal Grant

June 7, 2023 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

An Elmhurst University program that encourages underserved and uncertain students to embrace the idea of attending college has been awarded a highly competitive National Endowment for the Humanities grant worth $59,400.

The federal grant for Elmhurst’s Spotlight on Humanities in Higher Education Development project will enhance and expand an educational partnership that the University has had for the past few years with Addison Trail and Willowbrook high schools.

“The goal of the program is to help students who might not see themselves as college-bound have a little more self-confidence and see themselves as capable of attending college,” said Erika McCombs, assistant professor in the Department of English and the project director. “They are good students but don’t consider themselves college-bound.”

Since 2020, Elmhurst U. has offered Addison Trail and Willowbrook high school students an opportunity to earn collegiate English composition and literature credits at Elmhurst while completing their high school degree requirements. Students take the college-level courses in their high schools, visit Elmhurst to observe first-year seminar courses and participate in an English 105 class, and work with Elmhurst faculty on their college applications.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant, which went into effect on June 1, will allow the program to grow and serve more students. Specifically, the grant will fund several new initiatives, including:

  • A summer program for rising seniors. Beginning this summer, students will visit Elmhurst U. and experience college-level humanities studies.
  • Field trips for underserved students. Many of the students at Addison Trail and Willowbrook lack the opportunity to participate in cultural events and activities, McCombs said. The grant will fund field trips to a play at a theater and to a museum.
  • Professional development for high school educators. This part of the grant would provide 10 hours of professional development training to at least 35 high school humanities teachers to help them diversify the curriculum and better prepare their students for higher education.

Participation in the collegiate extension program, now in its third year, has tripled since the fall of 2020. In its first year, 23 students took part. This year, that number is 109.

McCombs wrote the NEH grant request with Amy Ferraro, chair of the English Department at Addison Trail; and Portia Ransom, chair of the English Department at Willowbrook. Ferraro and Ransom are project co-directors.

NEH grants are awarded to projects that promote lifelong learning and preserve history. Elmhurst was one of only 10 institutions in Illinois to receive funding.

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