Key questions


In New Orleans, our Working Group’s overarching question was–how can we reverse engineer a publicly engaged humanities graduate program for the 21st century?




You have carte-blanche from your administration to start a new graduate program from the ground up. You are not beholden to current practices at your university or in your field. Your administrators want a genuinely innovative flagship program that will serve as a model for a new type of graduate education and raise the university’s profile as a risk-taking national leader. What would your program include?

Step 1 Groups used a stack of Post-Its to identity the parts needed to build the whole program (30 minutes).

Everyone took a moment to jot down the most exciting and valuable ideas, trying NOT to start with requirements or credits or anything the least bit bureaucratic.  Our questions were–

  • What is succeeding from your own program’s experiments?
  • What do you wish humanities graduate programs included in addition to courses with a content focus like “Victorian literature” or “feminist theory”?
  • What have graduate students told you they want?
  • What would make you want to go back to grad school?

Step 2  Each group laid claim to a wall for Post Its and then negotiated with their group members about how to group the Post Its.

  • Do you want to group ideas by kind (class, workshop, experiential opportunity, assignment)?
  • Do you want to group ideas as parts of a curriculum?
  • Do you want to group ideas as “values” that would form the backbone for a program?
  • What other categories do you see? 
  • What’s missing? 

Step 3  In the final round, each group studied their Post Its and added ideas to fill in gaps.


In the final 30 minutes, each small group pitched their best ideas to the full group.  These are the results.


Send us any reflections you have after the session–whether questions, additional ideas, future sessions you’re planning at other conferences where some of might meet, or resources we can add to our programs and resource pages.

Graduate student training

Admissions—Need to understand and promote the idea that public engagement jobs are a viable option for humanities PHDs

Elastic curricula

Teach students the connection between scholarship and applied work

First year large collaborative project that connects many students with many organizations

3-4 core courses

20% of credits devoted to publicly engaged work

Require all graduate students take public methods seminar

Training/coursework re public engagement should begin in the first year

Early archival research training

Courses on how to engage various publics

Certificate programs


Proposal writing skills

Grant writing assignments built into courses

Public facing element to dissertation required

Internship model baked in

People from outside academy on dissertation committee

Make coursework more nimble—not just writing papers

Training in Digital Humanities

Engagement between humanities and technology, stem, business, and other departments

Training in how to use career planning resources like Imagine Ph.D.

Project-based modes

Humanities Ph.D.s at career center

Public talk or Op-Ed required

Reflection at end of projects:  mode of evaluation

Teach students to write for multiple audiences

Internships on and off campus—yearlong and summer—rather than solely RA or TA funding

Build in international components

Admissions open to non-academic experiences:  recruit students with broader interests

Ongoing opportunities for and connections with public humanities

Alternatives to convention “course block” model

Transition from lots of “stand alone” courses to some shared courses attached to all humanities programs

Opportunities to develop publications that link community partners to academic work

Critical reasoning with content

Identification of social problems as a first step in designing courses and assignments

Alternatives to traditional proto-monograph dissertation

Hiring models introduced early that include strong voices of people outside the academy

Co-teaching with community stakeholders

Strong coordination with libraries and buy-in by libraries—for resources

Spaces for collaboration and collaborative work


Note: Timing—need to introduce student to career options and new skills by midway point of graduate studies

Project management

Program development


Translation of specialized knowledge and skills into terms larger public can recognize


Multi-media “writing” skills

Grant writing

Creation and management of research data and data basis

Relationship building

Digital humanities training

Data visualization

Exhibit design and curation

Digital platforms

Range of skills needed in community settings—incentivize community partners to teach students and/or to mentor or coach them and take part in programs co-designed with campus

Training in funding models, budget construction, and financial constraints

Variety of program formats—workshops, maker events, design thinking, etc.

Pedagogy—for settings in and beyond typical classrooms

Social media training

Cultural competency for diverse communities—whether the diversity is based on language, ethnicity, economic status, urban/rural differences, religion, etc.

“Collaboration first” theory and practices of collaborative scholarship

Introduction to NGOs and other organizations


Much clearer values and statements about what qualities and abilities we seek in new faculty

Promotion and tenure requirements must take into account publicly-engaged work and clarify the differences among public scholarship, community engagement, and service (repeated across groups)

Service needs to be interrogated and nuanced


Advisor training is needed

Department involved in guidelines

Diverse mentors: co-mentors, alumni, etc., off-campus mentors

Aggressive efforts to recruit publically-engaged faculty members

Reviewer training—how to evaluate public projects and new formats

Idenfication of PHDs and MAs in the local community beyond the university who are working in key cultural organizations and ask for their advice and input


Ample funding explicitly for this type of training

The institution as a whole needs to be engaged

12 month funding (repeated refrain)

Graduate students as university employees

Funding for professional development (for faculty and students)


Establish a community Advisory Board

Develop relationships with state humanities councils

Ask community leaders to give talks in the department

Grow and protect community partnerships

Embed connections with state councils

Create partnerships

Host informal collegial gatherings involving off campus and on campus reps

Create links with rural as well as urban partners

Not related to any of these categories, but there was a recommendation that the Scholarly Societies integrate their efforts related to public humanities.


2016 Questions

In Utah, the Working Group will share programs and projects in which students are making experimenting with ways that the concepts, methods, theories, and practices they are learning in their graduate studies can be valuable in a range of domains–in addition to teaching or academic research careers. We welcome suggestions for questions, model programs, and other resources that we can share on this site and with our students.

From Stacy Hartman, Connected Academics, MLA

    • How can we make graduate students more aware of the wider humanities ecosystem through collaborations with local cultural institutions, civic organizations, nonprofits, and businesses? What opportunities for graduate students (such as internships) might be created through these collaborations?
    • How can we change the conversation about success and placement (both nationally and institutionally) to reflect a broader idea of success? How might efforts to track all graduate alumni support our efforts to change this conversation?
  • What are the biggest (structural and psychological) impediments to preparing doctoral students for diverse careers?

From Leah Nahmias, Indiana Humanities

    • As an administrator at two different humanities councils, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we ensure graduate students enter the non-academic humanities community, either through internships and/or embedded work during graduate school, or in non-academic careers post-grad school, with the right set of skills and mindsets for getting good work done with communities. Increasingly, to me, two related mindsets that graduate students need to bring to their work with public partners are operating with a sense of humility and entering new settings as a learner—not assuming that doctoral training has necessarily prepared one for working as part of a team in a non-profit organization. This leads me to ask—what pre-training (professionalization?) do graduate students need to be successful in graduate and post-graduate internships (careers?) outside the academy?
    • I often hear academic institutions, faculty, and grad students give a lot of lip service to the idea of partnership yet I don’t see how graduate student placements are designed to equally benefit the host community organization as they do the student—I’ve seen this up close with a grad internship placement we’ve hosted at Indiana Humanities, and I know it’s a frequent problem for us “hosts.” This is a common concern in the world of service learning and internships for undergrads, yet I seldom see these concerns raised in the world of graduate education. I think there are some obvious check-points to make sure that host orgs get as much out of the partnership/placement as they put in, yet don’t always see these put in place (and my opinion is rarely asked…).  When we design programs that put graduate students in community settings, how do we ensure that the host organizations benefit equally from the partnership?
  • Something else that I see in a lot of graduate students: doctoral training produces many students who are insecure about the process of collaboration and, relatedly, about showing vulnerability when they don’t know something or how to do something. As someone outside the academy, I’m less interested in diagnosing the problem in doctoral education than I am in thinking about how to empower graduate students and post-grads to be honest about not knowing, admitting when they need help, and sharing enough vulnerability that trust and collaboration are possible. The question: How do we train or empower graduate students working in community settings to admit vulnerability and say when they need help so that collaborations and/or projects don’t grind to a halt or fail altogether?