Reflections on working with the Engaged Arts and Humanities Scholars

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By Lisa Schwartz

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Lisa Schwartz is a Community Outreach Program Manager for CU Boulder’s Office for Outreach and Engagement. She founded and leads the Engaged Arts and Humanities Scholars program.

Overview

It’s been an incredible privilege to learn with the graduate students in the Engaged Arts and Humanities Scholars (EAH) cohorts as they develop a practice of innovative and boundary-spanning scholarship with communities. This past year, the 2021-22 scholars connected sports and literacy for elementary school girls, reimagined a mix of Ballet and Afro-Cuban Folkloric Dance, applied philosophical ethics to the dilemmas of tweens and more. 

The program provides a small stipend and seed funding for scholars to develop partnership projects with community members. Over the years, the projects scholars have begun while in the cohort have received thousands of dollars in additional grants from external funders, our office and other CU units. 

These scholars are doing amazing work and fully acknowledge that community-engaged teaching, research and creative work take time and are often not a linear process. Scholars spend months developing relationships with partners, slowly moving toward the co-creation of goals and projects that are mutually beneficial.  

The cohort provides a community of practice, outside the scholars’ disciplinary homes, where they make sense of the inevitable ups and downs of their experiences partnering with communities. An important aim is to support students in developing a sense of belonging–to each other and their partners–as a key element of developing relationships of trust and reciprocity. 

EAH Scholar Erica Caasi shared, “I have really appreciated the space created in the cohort to try things out, get feedback, and collaborate with others in a shared space and community.” 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 

Cohort members examine principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through reflection questions they develop together that explore issues of power and identity in partnerships. The scholars and I aim to write and submit a journal article in spring 2023, drawing from these reflections. In addition to attending DEI-focused workshops, cohort members interviewed their mentors about approaches to DEI in partnerships. Now, starting with the fifth year of EAH, cohort members can receive a micro-credential in equity-oriented partnerships

Crossing interdisciplinary and community boundaries helps support students to connect with and act on what they care about related to their lived experiences, not solely on the priorities of their disciplines. Cohort members also learn to explain their work to community members without jargon. I know from my own experience that this is a critical skill as students move into careers in academia and beyond. 

Mentorship

Mentorship is also a vital component of the program and can be challenging to navigate in academia. Scholars explore the kind of mentorship they need, and then connect with mentors from whom scholars later get feedback about their developing projects. I provide ongoing mentorship through individual meetings and advising, making connections to mentors and partners and continued support through giving references. For the past two cohorts, a second-year member has stayed on to guide program pedagogy and support the new members. 

Many scholars have moved into professional positions or other opportunities that reflect their work in the EAH program. It’s rewarding to continue collaborating with these students and seeing them evolve and grow the practices and projects they cultivated in the EAH cohort.   

Application deadline for the next cohort

Information sessions about applying for the sixth EAH cohort will be at Noon on Thursday, Dec. 8, Tuesday, Jan. 24 and Wednesday, Feb. 15. Details will soon be available here. Please check back!

MA, MFA and PhD students in Arts, Humanities and interdisciplinary programs are also welcome to contact me with questions. The deadline for applications will be Feb. 28, 2023.

Read this month’s Faces of Community-Engaged Scholarship profile of Jesus Munoz for an EAH Scholar’s perspective.