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WVU creating pathways to flexible humanities degrees, careers through NEH grant

As West Virginia seeks to re-imagine its future both economically and culturally, new skills beyond technical training will be necessary to generate innovative paths forward.  

Ryan Claycomb, a professor in the West Virginia University Department of English and interim director of the WVU Humanities Center, is working to create pathways for more flexible doctoral degrees in the humanities, particularly English and history. 

Ryan Claycomb
Ryan Claycomb

“We need to develop a base for deep expertise in the human-focused knowledge and skills necessary to educate an Appalachian workforce ready to think through the cultural challenges that come with our changing technical, economic and natural landscapes,” Claycomb said. “The humanities provide significant insight into these cultural shifts and teach the skills necessary to navigate them.”

A $21,352 National Endowment for the Humanities Next Generation Ph.D. grant will support the initiative.

“We hope to continue to train students to engage at a rigorous scholarly level, but find ways to communicate scholarship through other media and career paths that would take the skills of a humanities Ph.D. and apply them in broader, more immediate ways,” Claycomb said. “This is a way to connect our graduate students to the well-being of our state by trying to open up some of those career pathways.”  

The initiative includes plans to explore new funding models to support students, including graduate assistantships and internships in non-teaching positions to expand their repertoires. 

"This NEH grant is an excellent opportunity for the Department of English and all of us who believe in the value of graduate work in the humanities,” said Brian Ballentine, interim chair of the Department of English. “We are thrilled by the news of (Claycomb's) success, and we look forward to working with our colleagues to begin strategically transforming some of our curriculum."

The planning committee will also examine potential curriculum changes that might integrate skills such as public humanities communication, digital publication, arts and cultural resource management skills, advanced archiving and flexible teaching strategies. 

“This initiative will help students be more competitive for different kinds of opportunities and careers,” said Joseph Hodge, chair of the Department of History. “We’re working to be creative to find ways to give our students opportunities to teach but also to do something other than teaching to diversify their experiences and opportunities.” 

Beginning fall 2018, Claycomb will lead a committee of approximately 40 WVU faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners to begin the planning process.

“Our goal is to think about all the different ways we can apply humanities knowledge,” Claycomb said. “This is a concerted way to rethink our existing approach.”