Major $3.15M Grant Awarded to Graduate Center for Humanities Teaching and Learning

gc_cooper_exterior_220x152The Graduate Center has been awarded a major $3.15 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will enable Graduate Center Ph.D. students to be trained in effective teaching techniques at LaGuardia Community College. The doctoral students will also teach at LaGuardia, expanding access to the humanities for approximately 2,500 undergraduates.

Beginning in fall 2016, the Humanities Teaching and Learning Alliance will allow the Ph.D. students to teach humanities courses based on methodologies proven to benefit all learners—especially disadvantaged students and underrepresented minorities—whether in the humanities or other disciplines. The goal is not only to increase retention and graduation rates for community college students, but also to open pathways to potential advanced degrees in the humanities.

Community colleges have emerged as an increasingly vital sector of higher education, enrolling nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates—predominantly first-generation, low-income, economically disadvantaged students. More than two-thirds of LaGuardia students come from families making $25,000 a year or less. The Mellon award helps improve learning for these “new majority” students, while establishing a national model for translating specialized knowledge and research skills into the best classroom practices.

“The Humanities Teaching and Learning Alliance advances our commitment to research and teaching—the very best research and teaching—as a public good,” said Dr. Chase F. Robinson, President of the Graduate Center. “There is no other graduate school in the country that takes more seriously its public responsibilities, or generates more equity. The Mellon Foundation award helps us enhance doctoral training by partnering with LaGuardia Community College, leveraging the extraordinary scale and integration of the University system.”


GC14Studying the humanities has been shown to help students master essential lifelong skills, including critical thinking, creativity, writing, historical perspective, cultural understanding, communication, collaboration, project management, and digital literacy. Yet rarely do graduate humanities programs train students in the most effective ways to teach.

Through the Mellon grant, Graduate Center students will gain onsite training from LaGuardia mentors and master faculty, while LaGuardia students will benefit from inspiring teaching and resources for cultural enrichment. A select group of LaGuardia students will be offered opportunities to become peer mentors, enhancing the likelihood of success for both the mentors and those they support, as research shows. The grant will also fund a substantial online community platform and two post-doctoral fellowships to research humanities education and digital scholarly communication.

“With the catalytic support of this grant, the Graduate Center will develop for the first time a system for placing graduate teaching fellows in a community college,” said Mariët Westermann, Vice President at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “This initiative addresses two key priorities for the Mellon Foundation: strengthening the training of doctoral students for teaching in diverse classrooms and improving access to the humanities across the American population and system of higher education.”


While Graduate Center students already teach many thousands of CUNY undergraduates every year, the Mellon grant provides the critical support to expand to community colleges. The Mellon Foundation has funded a number of past Graduate Center initiatives, including a $2.415 million award in 2009 in support of interdisciplinary scholarship.

“The Center for Teaching and Learning at LaGuardia Community College will do what it does best: provide high-quality training and support for graduate students using innovative teaching pedagogies and experiential learning methods,” said Dr. Gail O. Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College. “We’re honored to collaborate with our colleagues across the University on this creative endeavor to strengthen and support humanities education, a vital part of every student’s path to a college degree.”

GC libraryThe new initiative reflects the Graduate Center’s integrated approach to doctoral education, as well as its commitment to increasing access, boosting undergraduate graduation rates, and diversifying the humanities. It also complements GC programs and partnerships within the City University of New York, which enrolls more than 480,000 degree-credit students across 24 campuses:

  • The Center for Integrated Language Communities (CILC), one of only 15 National Language Resource Centers, focuses on language education in the community college context and works with student heritage speakers at Hunter, Queens, Lehman, Staten Island, LaGuardia, Kingsborough, and Queensborough colleges;
  • The Futures Initiative (FI) draws on the University’s vast resources to develop new methods of teaching and research, with a goal of inspiring public investment in higher education;
  • The Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) prepares Graduate Center students to enter the classroom, supports their development as college teachers, and fosters innovative approaches to undergraduate education across the university;
  • Graduate Center Digital Initiatives (GCDI) encompasses a broad range of digital projects, resources, pedagogy, and scholarship.