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."