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For Immediate Release (00-32)
Date: June 26, 2000
Contact: Steve Simon, 240-567-7952 (pager: 301-930-2880)

Montgomery College’s Smithsonian Fellows Renew Interest in Humanities
Summer Fellows Rummage in the "Nation’s Attic" for Fun and Serious Research

As thousands of summer tourists stop to ride the carousel that sits just in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and History Museum, Montgomery College English professor Judy Pearce will be gathering together the cultural and historical significance of this piece of Americana from curators and collections within the Smithsonian Institute.

Pearce and six colleagues from Montgomery College this summer are researching topics in the humanities using the resources of the Smithsonian Institute, under a unique partnership between Montgomery College and the Smithsonian that aims at bringing liberal arts back into the mainstream of college life.

The research fellowships are coveted summer work for Montgomery College faculty members involved in a year-long program of seminars and study, known as the Smithsonian Fellowship Program. The Smithsonian Fellowship Program gives the College’s faculty and staff, who are selected through a competitive application process, an opportunity to study with curators at the Smithsonian Institution and to work with colleagues to experiment with new approaches to teaching the humanities.

In explaining how she came to her particular research topic, Pearce said she was challenged to find something fun to research and two of her passions, tools and merry-go-rounds, immediately jumped to mind.

"I am one of those adults that has never lost their love for a carousel ride," said Pearce, who will be producing a power-point presentation based on her research. "Even as child, as a teenager, when I was suppose to be too old to ride, I still rode."

Working with David Shayt, a curator at the National Museum of American Smithsonian carousel, which was built in 1947 by one of the venerable carousel manufacturers in the nation - the Allen Herschell Company. Peace noted that during the Second World War, the Herschell company converted its metal works factory in upstate New York to production of war materials and after the war returned to producing carousels.

"Carousels have a significant cultural, historical and social role in the life’s of the communities in which they operated," Peace noted, "There are rich, research resources on this children’s ride."

The Smithsonian Fellowship program sprung from concern among the humanities faculty at the College that the subjects of literature, art, music, history were perceived as less valuable to students on their way to becoming business majors or computer software engineers.

"The College wants to turn out the next generation of business leaders and individuals with marketable job skills, but we want them to have the context that there is more to life than the next IPO," said Myrna Goldenberg, director of the College’s Paul Peck Humanities Institute. "We are concerned that the humanities were losing ground, and the whole notion of a liberal education would be lost, if the humanities are not protected."

In its third year of operation, the fellowship program is the flagship program of the College’s Paul Peck Humanities Institute. In addition to the faculty internships at the Smithsonian, the Institute secures Montgomery College students’ internships with Smithsonian staff, as well. MC is unique among community colleges in providing such internships. The faculty fellows also work with students involved in the Montgomery Scholars program, mentoring these students on their second-year research project and interacting with them in special seminar classes on the Fellowship theme of the year.

Teachers and staff from each of the three campuses of Montgomery College have participated in the fellowship program. There have been a total of 40 fellows, including this year’s group of 14 thus far. The participants come from all disciplines, including the

hard sciences and even counseling. Typically, the year-long program of study focuses on a single theme related to the humanities as seen through the eyes of curators from throughout the Smithsonian Institution. This year’s theme is "Humanities and Technology."

In addition to giving the humanities a higher profile, another objective of the fellowships is to reinvigorate the teaching of humanities by allowing teachers from all disciplines an opportunity to explore the humanities from a different perspective.

"We want to take teachers out of their traditional college classrooms and break down the walls between teachers and researchers, between different disciplines and between institutions concerned with teaching," said Goldenberg.

To ensure an impact in the classroom, each of the fellows commits to revise how they teach at least one course based on what they learned from the experience of the on-the-job sabbatical. According to Carol Allen, a professor of biology at the Germantown Campus, who is also a summer fellow, incorporating the use of artifacts and exhibits at the Smithsonian has enabled her to think about her field differently, and she has encouraged her students to do the same. Last spring, Allen sent her students to the Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo to visit two exhibits on evolution for her general biology course and to write up their experiences.

"It wasn’t just a day at the zoo," Allen said. "I had them reflect on the difference between reading about evolution and seeing the concepts visually displayed, and then write about how the learning experiences were different."

In seminars given by the some of the world’s leading experts in their field, the Smithsonian Fellows delved into how changes in the camera and printing fonts have changed the art of photography and the art of the printed word over the centuries, among other topics. Allen noted that the fellowship is a unique educational opportunity for faculty because of the dialogue between the curators and the participants and, more importantly, the interaction between the faculty of the College.

"You could go on sabbatical and be on your own, but you miss the dialogue between your colleagues," said Allen. "This fellowship could be the envy of any college faculty in the country. It really is valuable."

The program is also wining enthusiastic supporters among administrators at Montgomery College and within the Smithsonian Institute, according to Goldenberg. She noted Smithsonian officials are using the Montgomery College partnership as a model for establishing similar programs with six other educational institutions around the country. A sign of the program’s growing institutional support at the College, said Goldenberg, is the fact that deans and chairs of departments are calling to inquire about openings for their department’s faculty and staff.

 

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