Humanities education supports civic leadership

By Ellie Ashford

Cuyahoga Community College has a unique program designed to cultivate civically engaged leaders who are grounded in the humanities.

In 2015, the Cleveland-based Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation provided Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) $10 million to create a Humanities Center on the college’s Eastern Campus, along with the Mandel Scholars Academy based at the center. About 100 students are admitted annually to the academy, and they receive scholarships from the Mandel Foundation to cover fees and textbooks, as well as tuition. The students complete an associate of arts degree along with co-curricular activities that develop leadership skills.

In addition to general and more focused humanities courses, students in the academy must take courses on the history of Cleveland, community engagement and leadership development. During their second year, students serve as a consultant to a community organization and complete a project where they put their leadership skills into practice.

“Having them gain civic engagement and leadership skills can help them become well-rounded individuals,” said Lisa Williams, president of Tri-C’s Eastern Campus, who will discuss the program during a session at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual convention next month in Orlando, Florida.

Students also have opportunities to engage with national leaders, including a recent session with former Starbucks CEO and presidential candidate Howard Schultz, said Matthew Jordan, dean of humanities at Tri-C. They had travel opportunities, as well, such as a trip to Alabama to learn about civil rights and race relations.

The Mandel Foundation also endowed the Honors College at Cleveland State University, where many Tri-C students transfer, Jordan said. Mandel Scholars at Tri-C can apply for one of the 25 spots in the Honors College at CSU and get full scholarships from the foundation.

The foundation provides a $2,500 stipend to the scholars, who take a four-week research seminar in the summer to prepare for CSU.

Engaged citizens

The vision for Tri-C’s humanities program is “to produce graduates who are thoughtful, engaged citizens, whether they transfer to a four-year program or not,” Jordan said.

A liberal education helps them become critical thinkers and good communicators who work well with their peers, and those skills are important for any career, he said.

The hope for the Humanities Center is to encourage students “to stay in the community and take on leadership roles,” Williams said.

“In 20 or 30 years, we’ll see thousands of alumni of the Scholars Academy who are leaders in every sector of our economy – whether they are doctors, lawyers or business leaders or serve on their local PTA board,” Jordan said. “They will share the foundation of what it means to be a leader, a citizen of Cleveland and a thoughtful human being.”

Ellie Ashford

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.