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Humanities Project Launching Community Collaborative for Graduate Training and Research

July 11, 2018

A new two-year project at UC Merced aims to bring academic and non-academic researchers together to recast the role of the humanities in public policy and, ultimately, improve the lives of San Joaquin Valley residents.

The collaborative project, entitled “Building Research Partnerships in the San Joaquin Valley: Community Engaged Research and Graduate Mentorship in the Interdisciplinary Humanities,” involves scholars and community organizations.

A theme will be chosen each year, and together the researchers will focus on questions of shared interest in the public sphere and illustrate how humanities research beyond the academy can affect the local, regional, and national dialogues on key issues, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts Dean Jill Robbins said.

The Henry Luce Foundation has funded the $280,000 proposal, one of the largest humanities grants the campus has received.

“We are excited about the innovative research and policy initiatives this partnership will help us all accomplish, as well as the unique training it will provide our Ph.D. students,” Robbins said. “This project will place UC Merced at the vanguard of institutions that are working to rethink the Humanities Ph.D.”

The project will be overseen by a committee of two faculty members, two community partners, Robbins and Vice Provost and Graduate Division Dean Marjorie Zatz . There are three key elements:

  • A graduate seminar to be held each fall semester, informed by the year’s guiding theme, and including training sessions and workshops for community partners, graduate students and faculty;
  • Supervised collaborative research activities each spring; and
  • A summer internship during which students, faculty members and community members prepare the dissemination of research results, including how they will attract the attention of policy-makers.

"This project will place UC Merced at the vanguard of institutions that are working to rethink the Humanities Ph.D.”

Jill Robbins

The project will give graduate students experience in team work and project management, which could benefit them if they seek careers in government, industry or nonprofit organizations.

“As a critical research institution in the San Joaquin Valley, it is imperative for UC Merced to build research partnerships with the local communities — many of which are underserved — and to engage scholarship and mentorship for the graduate students,” said Sarah Lim, a steering committee member and the director of the Merced County Courthouse Museum. “These efforts will help the communities better understand their potentials and address their needs.”

Lim suggested one study through the grant could be an in-depth look at the region’s railroad history.

“A comprehensive understanding of Merced County’s railroad history will serve as a good foundation to gauge the future transportation needs of the Valley and the development of high-speed rail,” she said.

Robbins and Zatz worked for more than a year with the project’s steering committee — comprising faculty and graduate students from the Interdisciplinary Humanities graduate group and the Center for the Humanities and community partners— to develop plans for the project, which begins July 1.

“Grants such as this award from the Luce Foundation are tremendously important, helping us build the institutional infrastructure necessary for training humanities graduate students in community-embedded research. This award is a wonderful complement to the STEM training grants we have received recently from NSF, NASA, and NIH,” Zatz said. “I am delighted to work with Dean Robbins and faculty members in the humanities to create such opportunities for our graduate students.”

The project will also allow UC Merced to develop deeper and more meaningful connections with community partners and bring them into the mission of the University of California — teaching, research and public service — as full participants in high-level research.

The first such group will continue to serve on the steering committee in the 2018-2019 academic year: Grey Roberts, a UC Merced Foundation Board of Trustee and Merced Theatre Board member; Jim Drury, president and CEO of Life Saving Images Inc.; Sarah Lim, with the Merced County Museums; Marta Frausto, CalTrans Transportation planner and Native American liaison; Cindy Lashbrook of Riverdance Farms; and Kathy Hansen with the Merced Arts Council.

“The Luce Foundation’s Higher Education Program has sought to support innovation in doctoral education, especially in the humanities and social sciences,” said Sean Buffington, vice president of the Luce Foundation. “A project like this one at UC Merced exemplifies that kind of innovation. By creating opportunities for students to work collaboratively with community partners, on projects that make a difference in communities, UC Merced is opening up possibilities for students outside of the academy and reaffirming the critical, public value of the humanities and social sciences.”