Hope is renowned for the wide range of undergraduate research projects that are available for student involvement. The majority of the research being funded at Hope is in STEM fields and related disciplines. For those individuals whose focus of their study is more humanities or arts based, the further development and application of their research skills outside of the classroom was followed by a question mark until 2010. At the turn of the decade, thanks to donations from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Hope was able to create the Mellon Scholars Program, which is a “three-year academic program that selects highly motivated students to develop their passions for the arts and humanities into original research, creative production, and public scholarship through faculty mentoring, new media training and summer research fellowships,” per the Hope College website. However, the Mellon Scholars program is now ending, leaving Hope without a specific research program for students who wish to pursue research in non-STEM fields.
The program served as the creative counterpart to the analytical research done in the sciences and allowed a broader spectrum of students to be a part of undergraduate research. According to the current director, Dr. Marsely Kehoe, “The Mellon Scholars Program [is] a place for students with interests in the art and humanities to, at a minimum, learn basic research and digital skills, but moreover as an environment where students can ask critical interdisciplinary questions about whatever they’re interested in and find the support to pursue these questions. I believe this is critical to the liberal arts experience, but it can be difficult to, for instance, approach literature from a sociological perspective within the bounds of those two disciplines—the projects that students do in Mellon Scholars cross boundaries at the college. We say on [Hope’s] website that we are ‘recognized for providing outstanding undergraduate research and creative project opportunities,’ and Mellon Scholars has been the primary place for this in the arts and humanities.”
One student who has benefitted from the program is Madison Stevens (’22), who was recruited as a freshman. She stated, “Dr. Gyulamiryan suggested I apply for the program since I am a Spanish minor, which is a part of the humanities division. I had to formally fill out an online application about my majors and interests and then I also met with Dr. Kehoe to talk about the program and how my involvement would be mutually beneficial to furthering my academics and other Mellon Scholars.” Students involved in the program work specifically with programs like “Omeka, WordPress, and Scalar for future presentations and collaborating with peers,” Stevens explained.
Despite the fantastic opportunities that Mellon Scholars have had to grow and learn in the digital era while incorporating it in their studies of the humanities or arts, the program is being terminated this year. According to Dr. Anne Heath, a former director of the program, “The program is ending because the funding from the Mellon Foundation ended in 2017. It was my understanding that when Hope received a second grant [from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation] in 2013, the grant was meant to sustain the program for 5 years… An additional gift was donated by an anonymous donor for the purpose of continuing the program for an additional year or two, while a permanent endowment was sought. I cannot speak to the process of how or why the college did not secure an endowment. Although as director of the program I offered to be, I was not involved with that process.”
The students currently involved in the program will remain enrolled until its completion or their graduation, but freshman and incoming students interested in the humanities and arts are once again left with that question mark at the end of the phrase, “What can I be involved in outside of my classes that will help prepare me for the world beyond Hope college?” Hannah Kenny, an alum of the program, told the Anchor, “I am devastated that the program is ending. It was such a blessing to this campus and a gift to all of the students directly impacted by the program. I think it is a real shame to see a program this positive and purposeful come to an end, especially because its mission of digitizing the humanities is one that is critical to our future technological world. So much funding and support goes to the STEM Fields, and the Mellon Scholars program was so unique in the fact that it gives these resources to the humanities. As a liberal arts college, we should be seeing the end of the Mellon Scholar program as a collective tragedy. It is a great loss for our campus and community.” Dr. Kehoe echoes this in regard to the program, saying, “I worry that the opportunities created by participating in research will be limited to students in the natural and applied sciences and the divisions of the social sciences with the end of this program.”
Despite the program coming to a end, Stevens expressed that more students should know what the program is and does for students in the humanities and arts. She said, “I would want students to know that the Mellon Scholars Program was a great opportunity for students in the arts and humanities divisions to not only receive funding for research topics of their interests, but to learn about research and digital skills in general.” So many students have benefitted from this program, and it has enabled many to go out and make amazing impacts in the humanities and the arts. For example, according to Dr. Heath, “Last week I was in Chicago at my major professional conference. At the book exhibit, I ran into the published catalog of a major exhibition of the photographer Dora Maar that was held at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, the Tate Modern, London and the Getty Center, Los Angeles. I also saw this catalog in the bookstore at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago [and it said that] Athina Alvarez ’13 was one of the curators of that show. Her interest in Surrealist photography also started as a Mellon project. She is finishing her PhD. at the Sorbonne, University of Paris.” Additionally, there are many Mellon Scholars alum doing research and writing related to previous Mellon projects at graduate schools such as Harvard and the University of Michigan. To that point, Dr. Heath posed the question, “Would these students be doing amazing things without the Mellon Scholars program? Perhaps. But the Mellon Scholars program gave them invaluable experience in research, the time to explore their interests and very close working relationships with faculty, all of which certainly created the space for each of them to shine.”
Written by Chloe Bartz and Katie DeReus
February 26, 2020 @ 9:49 am Madalyn Muncy-Piens
As a Mellon alumni, and one of the original class of scholars (’13), I am so disappointed to hear of the shuttering of the Mellon program. Though I did not attend graduate school, the research projects I did and the digital skills I learned certainly informed my professional life. The independent entrepreneurial spirit of the program without a doubt is one of the reasons why I successfully own and operate a business in the creative field. The humanities matter and I’m disappointed that the college didn’t find additional funding for the program.