JHU humanities program for community college students expands

Through grant from Mellon Foundation, the Humanities Collaboratory will double its class size and be open to students from any community college in Maryland

A student speaks at a workshop

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

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A summer program that gives area community college students an opportunity to bolster their academic confidence while conducting humanities research at Johns Hopkins University will expand with a new $1.8 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

With the grant, the Humanities Collaboratory will not only more than double its class size, but open to students at any Maryland community college.

The program originally launched in 2017 and offered high-performing students at the Community College of Baltimore County and historically black colleges and universities a chance to spend a summer at Johns Hopkins researching a humanities project of their choice. Students, who are paid a stipend and offered room and board, pursue subjects they are passionate about—often subjects they have not been able to explore in their regular coursework.

Students have delved into topics as wide-ranging as the Korean diaspora, Arabic love poems, and the role of artificial intelligence in the movie Blade Runner. At the summer's end, students present their findings at a national conference and then to their family, friends, and the Hopkins community.

The program strives to be different from traditional humanities research, which tends to be an isolated and solitary experience. During the purposely collaborative program, students work side-by-side daily, helping one another and attending professional and cultural workshops together, even as they concentrate on their self-guided, individual projects.

Program director Natalie Strobach, who is also the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' assistant dean of undergraduate research, said that being able to build subject matter expertise in such a supportive environment empowers students. And confidence is critical, she said, because "imposter syndrome" and feeling out of place on a college campus can be a challenge for minority, low-income, and first-generation students.

"We saw huge jumps in their confidence level and their feeling of belonging at a four-year university," Strobach said. "They'd come in thinking they don't have good ideas, and they can't be good researchers, and they don't belong at a place like Johns Hopkins. But they end up leaving with that completely turned around."

Strobach said almost every community college student who's been through the program has gone on to enroll at a four-year college—including one student who's now at Johns Hopkins studying international studies.

The new grant, part of the Mellon Foundation's Community College-Research University Partnerships initiative, will carry the program for three more summers and allow each summer class to expand from 10 to 24 students from any community college in Maryland. More graduate students from the Krieger School will also be hired to serve as instructors.

Organizers, including Joel Schildbach, the principal investigator and the Krieger School's vice dean for undergraduate education, hope the program will become a model for other institutions. A portion of the award supports a new initiative to invite faculty, staff, and graduate students from other colleges and universities to train at Johns Hopkins by experiencing the program.

The 2020 Humanities Collaboratory runs May 27 through Aug. 1. Online applications will be accepted until Feb. 3.