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Loyola wins $500,000 NEH Challenge Grant to support Messina

| By Nick Alexopulos
National Endowment for the Humanities

Loyola University Maryland has been awarded a $500,000 Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support Messina, the University’s unique first-year program designed to help first-year students adjust quickly to the academic rigor of college and build a foundation for success both personally and professionally.

The grant will fund a new faculty position in a humanities discipline, along with the development of programming that will be integrated in the Messina experience for first-year students.

“This award is an external affirmation of one of Loyola’s most important initiatives,” said Douglas Harris, Ph.D., faculty co-director of Messina and associate professor of political science. “Such a prestigious honor is the kind of thing that you would expect of an institution that strives be to the nation’s leading Catholic, comprehensive university.”

Roughly one third of Loyola’s current first-year class is participating in Messina. The program will include all first-year students beginning in fall 2015, and the new faculty member funded by the NEH grant is expected to arrive that same semester. The academic department hiring that faculty member will then commit at least six additional course sections to Messina per year to bolster the already robust humanities-based seminar course offerings central to Messina’s program design.

All Messina students choose an interdisciplinary course pairing within one of three chosen themes; students take one course in the fall and one course in the spring, and professors teaching these courses collaborate with one another to ensure continuity of thematic, connected learning across disciplines. To extend the experience outside of the classroom, Messina students are housed in Loyola’s residence halls according to the theme they choose to encourage consistent intellectual exchange in different environments. The extra-curricular experience also includes theme-specific lectures, speakers, events, and activities, programming that will continue to expand as a result of the NEH award.

“The funding is critical because Messina programming brings the world of the humanities closer to the first-year student experience,” said Michael Puma, Messina’s student development co-director. “In the big picture, NEH has given us a great public vote of confidence in what we knew personally and what is widely known on campus – that Messina is a tremendous demonstration of collaboration, vision, and creativity. This certainly strengthens our future.”

NEH Challenge Grants strengthen the humanities by encouraging non-federal sources of support and helping institutions secure long-term improvements in and support for their humanities programs and resources. Recipients are required to match NEH funds on a three-to-one basis. More than 200 humanities projects received awards in this cycle totaling $14.6 million, which includes Challenge Grants as well as grants in other categories. Loyola is one of only five universities and nine institutions in all to receive a $500,000 grant, the highest increment awarded.

“It puts Messina on the map nationally,” Harris said.

A full list of NEH grant recipients is available at neh.gov.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities:
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.

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