The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities is delighted to announce that we have been awarded a $650,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the Odyssey Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign over a period of five years. The grant will be used to enhance our ongoing efforts to bring foundational humanities knowledge and learning to non-traditional adult students and to highlight the critical role that study in the humanities plays in preparing students for the worlds of opportunity that await them.
"We’re excited about the new educational possibilities and opportunities this award will open up to members of our community,” said Illinois Chancellor Robert J. Jones. “Our mission at Illinois is to make life-changing educational experiences accessible and available to everyone. This new Mellon Foundation grant will put the transformative power of a humanities-centered education within reach for more non-traditional students than ever before and will have an impact that spans generations. This is just a tremendous new investment in human potential at Illinois.”
The Odyssey Project is based on the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities model, a national program which offers Bard College credit to students who complete coursework in the humanities. The premise of the program is that a foundation in humanities courses offers students an opportunity to build their knowledge base and develop critical thinking skills that will serve them in their pursuit of higher education, workforce opportunities and a lifetime of learning-based citizenship. Typically offered in the evenings, Odyssey courses are free to enrolled students, and include books, dinner, and transportation. The program is open to students 18 or older, regardless of whether they have completed a high school education at the time of enrollment.
Illinois Humanities (the state humanities council) began the Odyssey Project in 2000. In 2006 IPRH, in partnership with Illinois Humanities, brought the Odyssey Project to Champaign-Urbana in order to offer local income-eligible adults the opportunity to pursue higher education that might not otherwise be accessible to them. Thanks to the generosity of The Mellon Foundation, the support of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and many campus partners, the Odyssey Project at the University of Illinois will now more fully introduce Odyssey students to the University of Illinois experience both inside and outside the classroom. Beginning 2019–2020, Odyssey courses will become official Urbana campus courses, with tuition for those courses waived by the College of LAS. Students who complete the coursework will receive University of Illinois credit (4 hours per course, with two non-degree courses offered) that will be transferrable to a two- or four-year institution. Odyssey classes will meet on campus in Ikenberry Commons, where dinner will be provided. The grant also provides for a Public Humanities Fellowship for a doctoral student in the humanities and for 2 humanities undergraduate interns who will serve as classroom support for Odyssey students during the evening course sessions.
“We are thrilled that The Mellon Foundation is supporting the Odyssey Project,” said Feng Sheng Hu, the Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS. “We in the College of LAS are firm believers in the power of the humanities to deepen understanding and transform lives for the better, and the IPRH’s efforts to offer humanities courses to non-traditional students are extremely meaningful. We are proud to partner with them in this endeavor.”
Moving forward, students enrolled in the Odyssey Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will take a two-part series of core humanities courses that introduce them to Literature, Philosophy, Art History and U.S. History taught by University of Illinois instructors. These face-to-face, discussion-focused courses offer Odyssey students the chance to learn in a supportive, interactive classroom environment with instructors whose expertise and pedagogical commitments provide a rich and dynamic learning environment rooted in humanities values and practices. And students will have an opportunity to learn from one artist or creative writer in-residence each semester. The courses also devote significant resources to reinforcing critical thinking and writing skills in the context of the subject-matter covered.
“In this increasingly technological world, we need the humanities more than ever,” IPRH director Antoinette Burton said. “Thanks to The Mellon Foundation, IPRH will be able to foster stronger relationships with people in our community through educational experiences that encourage us to all to stretch ourselves and reach for new horizons via the study of the human condition. We look forward to the welcoming our new Odyssey class in the fall of 2019.”