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$25 million donation for paid internships for humanities majors at public universities and colleges announced by Elizabeth Alexander
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$25 million donation for paid internships for humanities majors at public universities and colleges announced by Elizabeth Alexander

The Mellon Foundation announced that it has awarded a total of $25 million to five public colleges and universities—California State University, Fresno; City College of New York; Old Dominion University; University of Missouri – Kansas City; and University of North Carolina Greensboro—to establish paid internship programs for humanities majors. The funding is an effort to enhance awareness of the employability of humanities majors and thus to promote the study of the humanities among undergraduates.

Despite reports from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences that show both the employment and compensation rates of humanities bachelor’s degree holders as competitive with their counterparts in the behavioral, social, and life sciences, widespread misconception about humanities study being disconnected from the world of work continues to persist. Mellon’s humanities internship grants aim to make internship participation more widely available for humanities majors, thereby increasing awareness that humanities study continues to offer viable career pathways to students.

“While it is obvious from the data that humanities majors regularly graduate into jobs that they find both emotionally and financially rewarding, that message has not reached students or their families,” said Phillip Brian Harper, Mellon Foundation program director for Higher Learning. “The internships funded through these grants will make it clear that humanities study leads not just to jobs, but to exciting career paths in a wide range of sectors.”

The five public institutions granted humanities internship funding from Mellon—each with a demonstrated commitment to humanities education—will continue their internship programs in perpetuity following grant funding, significantly impacting the experience of humanities majors throughout the nation for years to come.

The five public colleges and universities awarded humanities-based internship grants include:

California State University, Fresno (Fresno, CA), $5,000,000 – Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities will design, implement, and scale an internship program for its humanities students that allows them to put theories learned during coursework into practice. By creating new internship courses, Fresno State will embed career preparation into the curriculum and transform student perspectives around the study of the humanities.

City College of New York (New York, NY), $5,000,000 – The City College of New York (CCNY) will build on existing initiatives in career preparation to establish a comprehensive humanities internship program that will enhance humanities students’ access to internship opportunities in the nonprofit and public sectors. CCNY will develop an online database tracking internship and job placements of humanities majors and offer new courses that would provide academic credit for supervised internships. At least 250 internships will be funded by the grant over five years.

Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA), $5,000,000 – Old Dominion University (ODU) will provide internship placements and related programming for 750 humanities students over five years. In addition, ODU will implement freshman learning communities that incorporate internship preparation, scale internship opportunities for humanities students, integrate work-based learning into the curriculum, and develop an undergraduate humanities internship studio that will facilitate placement.

University of Missouri – Kansas City (Kansas City, MO), $5,000,000 – University of Missouri – Kansas City will leverage Mellon funds to launch the Mellon Humanities Internship program and institutionalize humanities students’ access to work experiences. Over five years, the program will support paid internship placements for 180 students at local organizations, workshops in career development, and travel for students to distant internship sites.

University of North Carolina Greensboro (Greensboro, NC), $5,000,000 – By building year-long, curriculum-integrated, and cohort-based internship placements for 650 students at 130 regional non-profit organizations over five years, the “Humanities at Work” internship program will leverage UNC Greensboro’s strong track record of student transformation and community engagement. “Humanities at Work” will enhance the undergraduate humanities experience, better prepare humanities students for life after graduation, and address the need for a workforce pipeline of well-prepared talent.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.

A celebrated poet, scholar, and cultural advocate, Elizabeth Alexander is a nationally recognized thought leader on race, justice, the arts, and American society. As president of the Mellon Foundation, she leads a multi-billion-dollar philanthropy and the nation’s largest funder of the arts and humanities, supporting educational institutions and cultural organizations while envisioning and guiding new initiatives to build just communities across the United States.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Dr. Alexander served as the director of Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, shaping Ford’s grantmaking vision in arts and culture, journalism, and documentary film. In this role, she guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities and serve as vital tools for collective expression and enlightenment. While at Ford, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund, an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration.

Across her esteemed career as a scholar and educator, beginning with an English professorship at University of Chicago, where she was honored with the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Dr. Alexander has taught and inspired generations of students. She held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Yale University—where she taught for over 15 years and helped rebuild and chaired the African American Studies Department—and Columbia University. In 1997, Dr. Alexander was appointed inaugural director of The Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith College and in 2015, she was appointed Yale University’s inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

An author or co-author of fifteen books, Dr. Alexander was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize: for poetry with American Sublime and for biography with her 2015 memoir, the New York Times best-seller The Light of the World. In 2009, she composed and delivered the poem “Praise Song for the Day” for President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Her latest book, released in 2022, is The Trayvon Generation.

Dr. Alexander is a widely sought after speaker and has contributed to countless selection committees and juries. Currently, she serves on the boards of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the Pulitzer Prize, and is Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets. She has been awarded ten honorary doctorates and is internationally recognized for her poetry, scholarship, and thought leadership. Time named Dr. Alexander one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2022, and in 2019 she was awarded Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Medal. In 2021, Dr. Alexander was recognized as Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, one of the country’s highest cultural honors.

Dr. Alexander holds a BA from Yale University, an MA from Boston University, and a PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives and works in New York City.

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