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“We are honored that the Luce, a foundation distinguished by long history of pushing the field forward, is supporting this innovative project.”
- Ethan Lasser, Harvard Art Museums

New Grants Highlight New Directions in the Higher Education Program

Through his magazines Time and Life, Henry Luce sought to make important ideas available to a broad, national audience. The Foundation he established has followed in his footsteps, supporting new research and ensuring its wide dissemination. Colleges and universities have been a key partner in this effort from the Foundation’s earliest years: its very first grant in 1936 was made to Yenching University in Beijing, and over half of all grant monies awarded since have gone to institutions of higher learning.

Most of those grants are made through the Foundation’s thematic programs and initiatives (including American Art, Asia, Religion in International Affairs, or Theology). But for projects that do not fit neatly into such topics, there’s the Higher Education program, headed by the Foundation’s Vice President, Sean Buffington.

The Higher Education program has recently issued new guidelines that re-focus its grantmaking activities around six priorities. The new guidelines will encourage grants that complement the Foundation’s other programs while continuing to advance its historic mission.

Six recent grants help to illustrate the program’s new priorities. For example, Emory University’s “Communities of Practice” initiative exemplifies the program’s commitment to innovation in doctoral education. “Communities of Practice” aims to “transform graduate education so that it is in tune with the needs of the present era,” according to the proposal.

Lisa Tedesco, dean of Emory’s James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies, and her colleagues David Nugent and Carla Roncoli, observed that many graduate training programs do not effectively prepare students for the kinds of work available to them inside and outside of academia. They envisioned a program in which graduate students from the humanities and social sciences will work closely with students from Emory’s professional masters programs and with nonacademic partner organizations to develop and carry out development projects in the global south. A 2016 grant from the Higher Education program is supporting the pilot year of the program, potentially unlocking a new method of preparing students to “link theory and practice to address complex, globally-based problems.”

The newly renovated Harvard Art Museums

The Harvard Art Museums are addressing another of the Higher Education program’s priorities—transdisciplinary research and training—by pioneering a new approach to the study of art. “The Maneuvers Project” approaches art from the perspective of physical actions that are common to several art forms. For example, turning is used in woodworking, ceramics, and metallurgy, while cutting is a characteristic action in film editing, dressmaking, and architecture. The Harvard Art Museums have organized summer workshops in which graduate students from fields as diverse as History of Art, Studio Art, History of Science and American Studies will study—and practice—these ‘maneuvers,’ together with artists, artisans, curators, and conservation experts. A grant from the Higher Education program will fund video documentation of these workshops and the development of a media-rich website, introducing this inventive approach to institutions around the world.

Consistent with the Foundation’s long interest in promoting international understanding, the Higher Education program also seeks to support dialogue about higher education between U.S. and non-US institutions. A 2015 grant to Duke University for a conference on liberal arts education in China exemplifies this new focus. Liberal arts has not historically been a common curricular approach in China, but several Chinese universities, as well as US-Chinese educational partnerships, have recently launched experiments in liberal education. In the fall of 2016, one such partnership, Duke Kunshan University, will convene Chinese and American higher education leaders to explore and assess these experiments, to build relationships amongst institutions developing such programs, and to articulate a distinctly Chinese approach to the liberal arts.

Denis Simon, the executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan, notes that the conference may have an impact far beyond the immediate participants: “the spread of liberal arts education in China has transformational potential. We hope to better understand the multiple pedagogical challenges facing Chinese educators as they move ahead with the reform and further development of universities and colleges in the coming years.”

Duke Kunshan University's campus in Kunshan, China

Disseminating knowledge beyond the academy is a goal of all of the Foundation’s programs and a special focus of the new Higher Education guidelines. In particular, the program aims to make research available to policymakers and practitioners. A grant to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) will help to fund a study of the current state of American foreign language education. Organized in response to a request from a bi-partisan group of Congressional leaders, the project will produce a report and a series of recommendations for Congress about how to improve America’s language capability, a key to economic competitiveness and political efficacy in our interconnected world.

A recent grant to the on-line magazine The Conversation supports even broader dissemination of research—beyond the policy community to the general public. Founded in Australia in 2011 and expanded to the U.S. in 2014, The Conversation commissions articles from academic specialists for a general audience, on topics of current interest ranging from politics, foreign affairs, and business to science, medicine, and the arts. It’s attracting six million page views each month in the U.S. alone. And it publishes under a creative commons license, so that articles can be reprinted at no additional cost by national and international publications.

The Luce Foundation’s grant will allow The Conversation to expand its editorial staff in order to increase the volume and scope of its commissioned articles. Damian Thompson, the organization’s global coordinator, notes that “The Conversation US is working with the Henry Luce Foundation to help bring important ideas down from the ivory tower of universities and into the public square. Support for our model of knowledge-based journalism will be critical in realizing our vision to promote better understanding and more informed policy discussions.”

An EDGE Foundation summer session cohort

Finally, the Higher Education program continues to support the goals of the Foundation’s Clare Boothe Luce Program, with a 25-year track record of increasing the representation of women in academic STEM fields. One of many examples of this work is the program’s 2015 grant to the EDGE Foundation, which offers summer sessions for women engaged in the advanced study of mathematics. The grant supported a reunion of previous participants, a workshop for recent PhDs on the academic job search, and a two-day workshop for heads of PhD programs on effectively mentoring women doctoral students. Like previous grants to HERS, the Society of Women Engineers, and the National Academy of Sciences, the EDGE Foundation grant will help to eliminate obstacles to a diverse community of STEM students and researchers.

The Higher Education Program is currently accepting proposals from all kinds of institutions that are engaged in work that suits our mission. The Foundation particularly welcomes inquiries from institutions that are less well-resourced and/or that seek to serve disadvantaged or marginalized communities. More information about the application process is available here.

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“The Communities of Practice structure will present students with the challenge of working across disciplinary divides, linking theory and practice to address complex, globally-based problems – skills that are highly valued in professional and academic worlds.”
- Carla Roncoli, Emory University

"The Conversation U.S. is working with the Henry Luce Foundation to help bring important ideas down from the ivory tower of universities and into the public square."
- Damian Thompson, global coordinator, The Conversation