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Local nonprofits receive humanities grants

Humanities New York has awarded nearly $195,000 in awards to 41 grantees statewide for innovative public humanities offerings, including three grantees in the Rochester area and a total of seven in the larger Finger Lakes region.

“History, philosophy and literature give us the tools to understand the unfolding historic moment,” said Humanities New York Executive Director Sara Ogger in a statement last week. “The awarded programs nimbly engage participants in compelling topics, and ultimately, with each other. It is inspiring to see how cultural service providers find new ways to reach their communities. HNY is honored to support them in their endeavors.”

The grants are federally funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities. Previous years have included New York State funding.

Action Grants offer up to $5,000 to implement humanities projects that encourage public audiences to reflect on their values, explore new ideas and engage with others in their community, officials said. The grants are awarded to organizations that connect audiences more deeply to the communities where they live.

In Rochester, the Davis Gallery at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva received a $5,000 grant for its exhibition “Crafting Democracy in the Finger Lakes.” The Jewish Community Center of Rochester received a $5,000 grant to perform “Gloria, A Life, A Play by Emily Mann” about Gloria Steinem. And the Rochester Oratorio Society received a $4,300 grant to showcase “They Sang Too: Unheard Voices of the Suffrage Movement,” a showcase of non-white/non-Christian suffragists on Election Day at Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite.

HNY noted that several grants promote documenting and understanding the Coronavirus pandemic in New York State, while more than 10 grants were awarded to fund the centennial of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote. Several grants went to organizations that offer programs on the legacy of race in America.

HNY was established in 1975 as the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Two local organizations awarded humanities grants

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded more than $2.3 million statewide to support local cultural nonprofits and educational programming, including more than $200,000 in awards to two area organizations.

“Nonprofits and cultural organizations are critical parts of the Upstate economy that create jobs and serve vital functions so I am pleased to provide this critical federal support to help them survive through the COVID crisis,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-NY), who led the negotiations to create this stream of funding in the CARES Act. “This federal funding will help New York along its road to recovery from the pandemic and foster communities that are enriched and inspired. The pandemic did not snuff out our thirst for cultural education, nor the jobs in that vital sector, and I’m proud to deliver this critical funding that will feed our communities the cultural nourishment they need.”

In the Finger Lakes Region, George Eastman Museum will receive $135,000 for transforming audience engagement and reach through digital programs, while Roberts Wesleyan College will receive $73,046 for the college’s A.S. Arts & Culture.

“This critical investment in Upstate New York will advance education and humanities research in our communities,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY), said. “Because of the National Endowment for the Humanities, our cultural institutions are able to reach more families and communities with programming that enriches, educates and inspires. As New York communities prepare to reopen, this critical CARES funding is pivotal in the advancement of our education and economy and will help define who we are as a nation. I am proud to have fought for this funding and will continue pushing to fund nonprofits, cultural organizations, and humanities.”

The senators said that Upstate New York will receive nearly 6 percent of the $40.3 million in grants the NEH is allocating this month. New York state as a whole will receive $6,841,387. The grants come from the $75 million in supplemental grant funding the NEH received through the CARES Act.

Nationally, the NEH estimates that the additional grant funding will support projects that will ultimately reach an audience of 137 million people.

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Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Technology jobs need the humanities, panelists say

Though employers, educators and even parents have fixated on STEM disciplines to prepare young people for jobs in an increasingly technological society, a recently convened expert panel said it’s important to remember the humanities.

Amanda Roth
Amanda Roth

And above all, they said, young people should be encouraged to do what they’re passionate about.

The panel on “Why STEM Needs the Arts & Humanities” was assembled by the Institute for Humanities at Monroe Community College earlier this month, and included:

Michael Jacobs, dean of humanities and social sciences at MCC and director of the institute, said the rise in global technologies has been accompanied by a precipitous drop in interest in majors in the humanities, which include English, modern languages, history, social sciences, philosophy, anthropology and others.

“This is a false dichotomy and stunts our growth as human beings,” Jacobs said.  STEM education needs people educated in what it means to be human,” he said.

Education in the humanities, Roth said, nevertheless may lead to a job in the STEM arena.  Those majors specialize in skills that STEM jobs need, she suggested, including critical thinking, reading comprehension, logical analysis, argumentation, persuasive communication, ethics and values, and global and multicultural awareness.

For instance, Nissan used anthropological studies of human behavior to improve its driverless cars, she said.

All three panelists provided evidence, whether personal or general, that people who succeed in technology fields often bring with them varied experience outside of science, technology, engineering and math.

Eric Berridge
Eric Berridge

Berridge, for example, has spent his entire career working in computer software but majored in English and rhetoric. He told a story, reprised from a TED Talk he gave in 2018 about how he and his Bluewolf partners sent in a bartender, who majored in philosophy but dropped out of college, to negotiate with an unhappy client. The bartender used his good listening skills and analytical mind to figure out what the client really needed instead of focusing on the technical issues that had stumped the programmers.

And though Munson is an electrical engineer by training, he described his brief and joyful career as theater parent that led to his starring as the Tin Man in a production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Munson has, since arriving at RIT, made efforts to swing the university toward more music and performing arts as a way to engage and expand upon the multiple talents of science-minded students.

“My advice is always take a degree in what you’re passionate about,” Munson said. But he also recommended liberal arts majors take some courses in business and computing while STEM majors add courses in creativity and synthesis.

In the growing demand for cybersecurity experts, he said, “We need more people working on the problem who actually understand humans.”  Issues of privacy and ethics come from humanities studies, he noted.

“We’re living in a world where technology is easier to consume, to learn,” Berridge said, so it’s not always necessary anymore to get a degree in technology to be able to use it, he said. “The path of your success is to find your own passion.”

Roth talked about a college fair where a student was headed toward a table for philosophy and women’s studies when a parent grabbed the student’s arm and led him in another direction.

David Munson
David Munson

Munson added that during the depths of the Great Recession, parents were afraid their children wouldn’t get a job after graduating from college, and enrollments in computer science programs tripled. But he cautioned that picking a major based on a job ignores the fact that people and their interests change, he said, noting that he never dreamed of being a college president.

Berridge was even more direct: “It’s irresponsible for us to push children into subject matter we think will get them a job,” he said.

Berridge pulled job listings off a Google website and found that of the more than 9,000 jobs Google posted, less than 30 percent asked for a degree in computers. The company also needs people with expertise in marketing, sales, human relations and other non-STEM fields.

While technology fields help us know how to build things, humanities teach us what to build and why, she said.

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