Each month, The Center for Public Humanities will interview a humanities scholar or community member and ask them everything from why they believe the humanities are important to what they're currently binge-watching. We hope that our new blog series, Coffee & Questions, will inspire you, introduce you to a variety of people and fields, as well as create new conversations.
Our third guest is Karen Pierce, director of the Slippery Rock Community Library. Karen loves books, loves talking about books, loves finding new books to read, and well, loves helping people to find books and information. Ms. Pierce used to sell books for children and the position of librarian was a perfect fit. She is pursuing her degree in library science at Clarion University. Karen notes the best part of her job is working with the people who walk through the library door. Ms. Pierce is "information central" and can answer most any question posed to her and if she doesn't know, she knows where to go to find the answer. She has been working at the library since 2008.
What inspires you in your current position/role?
I really like my job at the Slippery Rock Community Library. I enjoy being able to help people find information and solutions. I like being a point of information for the community.
What work experiences (past or present) have been the most educational for you, and why?
I was an Independent Educational Sales Consultant for Usborne Books. I learned so much from that job - marketing skills, including marketing not only the books but myself as well, working with the public, customer service and some computer skills. I loved selling kids books - really they sell themselves - they still are some of my favorite books!
What project(s) are you currently working on?
We are currently working on building a new library! I am very excited. We are located right now in a room that is 283 square feet and we've outgrown that room a long time ago. We've been raising funds and are ready to build a new library at 465 North Main St that will be around 2700 square feet. Our community is ready for this!
Why do you believe that the humanities are important to everyone, and not just people in academia?
I think the study of humanities is important for everyone! Humanities is the study and interpretation of language, literature and history among other things and I think it's good to be able to understand the context of a conversation. For example, a conversation in our current time is about the Constitution and how it was written by the founding fathers and how it is being interpreted today. Are we interpreting it the way our founding fathers intended? How has society changed in 200 + years? This is but one example of why humanities is an very important part of our education. Think of the other things we interpret - Religious texts, historical documents, ancient history - before the written word. We are shaped as a community by events that happened in the past and the things that happen today will shape how our community looks, acts, responds in the future.
What shows are you currently binge-watching?
I rarely watch TV live. I record Timeless and The Walking Dead. I am restless though so I usually can't sit through an entire episode without pausing it and doing something else for a while.
Thank you, Karen, for sharing how you're bringing humanities into our community. We look forward to the new library!
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed Seth Bruggeman's interview, click here.
Want to be interviewed? Contact us.
With funding challenges forcing many institutions across the country to either scale back or consider cuts to liberal arts programming, Slippery Rock University's Humanities Ladder program will soon receive an infusion of capital courtesy of a $100,000 Humanities Access Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.The NEH today announced $16.3 million in funding for 290 projects in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to support a variety of humanities-based research and programs. The grants include the inaugural round of Humanities Access grants which were awarded through NEH's Office of Challenge Grants to 34 organizations - including SRU's Humanities Ladder - that provide "cultural programming for young people, communities of color and economically disadvantaged populations."
SRU's Humanities Ladder program, a 10-week initiative that launched in fall 2015, introduces underserved high school students at Aliquippa High School to topics not normally covered at the high school level, including: art history, gender studies and philosophy.
The ultimate goal of the program is to help students develop a love of humanities and find motivation to attend college.
"The grant speaks volumes about the significance of the Humanities Ladder and its tremendous potential," said Aaron Cowan, SRU professor of history and program co-director. "There is an entire national movement in the humanities where we think about how to make enrichment available to people outside the University."
According to Timothy Aiken, director of congressional affairs for the NEH, the 34 Access Grant recipients were awarded following a "rigorous and highly competitive" peer-review process.
Aiken said the NEH evaluated each grant application before forwarding recommendations to the National Council on the Humanities, which serves in an advisory role to the NEH. The council then provides its recommendations to NEH Chairman William Adams for final approval.
"The humanities help us study our past, understand our present, and prepare for our future," said Adams. "The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to support projects that will benefit all Americans and remind us of our shared human experience."
While the NEH awards 900 grants a year ranging from $1,000 to $750,000, Aiken said many applicants get turned down.
"In most programs, the applicant success rate varies from about 6 percent to 40 percent," he said.
SRU's Humanities Ladder served 25 high school sophomores in its first year and has followed those participating students into their junior year while welcoming another class of 30 sophomores in 2016.
"Since the program started, these students have exhibited increased educational goals, a deeper appreciation for the humanities and an overall greater confidence," Cowan said. "There was a 50 percent increase in students motivated to apply for college admission."
Participating faculty have been joined this fall by SRU students Max Knight, a junior secondary education/history from North East and LaMorie Marsh, a senior English major from New York City, who act as student mentors in the program.
The NEH grant monies are designed to support initiatives by matching other external funding up to $100,000, according to Lia Paradis, SRU associate professor of history and program co-director. The program was the recipient of a $45,000 grant from the PNC Foundation in June.
"The support of the NEH will help us approach other potential funders, because it indicates that the Humanities Ladder is an important program worth their attention," she said.
Funding from the NEH grant will allow for expansion of the program to additional area school districts that, like Aliquippa, lack funding for humanities education.
The Humanities Ladder program is part of SRU's Stone House Center for Public Humanities. Cowan and Paradis launched the Center in 2014, with the goal of taking humanities programming into the wider community and sustaining interest in liberal arts education.
"The Center connects the University's humanities faculty and students to the broader community by offering collaborative educational programming, public forums, non-degree courses, workshops and service-learning opportunities, all focused on bringing the insights of the humanities to bear on contemporary public life," said Cowan.
"The mission is to provide unique opportunities for the western Pennsylvania community to celebrate cultural heritage, foster innovative educational experiences and highlight the humanities' relevance to contemporary life."
The most fundamental aspects of being human come from the humanities, things such as culture, religion, artistic expression, and effective communication. In studying humanities, human flourishing is enabled by allowing for a bettering understanding of the nature of ourselves, others, and the world around us. This leads to the fostering of empathy and compassion.
The human species maintains traits that seem to be unique from all others. This includes indulging in leisure activities such as literature and art, amongst other humanities. The rise of such things has enabled humanities and their promotion of creativity and imagination. If these things did not exist it seems that an essential part of our human make-up would be missing. Another unique trait is the human ability to rationalize. The studying of the humanities paves a way for strong, rational thinking, which leads to constructive discourse that is critical in getting along in our world today.
Here are some other examples of how the humanities make a big difference:
The humanities shape human thoughts and behaviors, which is crucial in determining our future. To learn more about the humanities, and how the Center for Public Humanities is helping in our community, click here.
Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.