Once the cornerstone of a university education, the humanities now find themselves in a paradoxical situation. The work currently being carried out in the humanities is as vibrant and exciting as ever, but humanities fields increasingly are being questioned as to their relevance by those who believe education should be primarily focused on gaining technical skills. Furthermore, where once humanities students often started at the four-year college level, a large and growing number of humanities students now begin their academic journey at two-year community colleges. This situation brings new energy and possibilities to the humanities, but also uncertainty.
Simply put, the humanities can be difficult to define because they encompass all of human existence. The fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are easy to identify: they categorize and quantify the natural world, helping us to solve technical problems that humanity encounters. STEM tells us what we can build. The humanities, on the other hand, "remind us where we have been and help us envision where we are going" (9). The humanities tell us who we are, what we can be, and maybe what we should or should not do. The humanities encompass areas such as literature, language, history, philosophy, and art and music history. It is difficult to describe the humanities because we humans are difficult to describe. They encompass so much because we, even as insignificant as we sometimes feel, encompass so much.
The humanities are all around us in one form or another: in our political and economic debates, in our courtrooms, in our museums, on stages, on movie screens, and in books. They touch every part of our lives so much that we do not even notice them anymore; like the air, they are a necessary part of our existence, but we often do not think of them. As a result, college students and those outside educational institutions question their value; sometimes, they will discuss the "fairness" of having to support the humanities, but will not realize that the concept of "fairness" is one which is one that is heavily contemplated in the humanities, and has been for centuries.
Much of the discussion about the humanities, though, often comes in the form of the "usefulness" of a humanities major. This is a fair point of discussion; after all, college students not only find themselves possibly facing the prospect of student loan debt upon graduation, but they also find themselves entering a rapidly changing workforce. What was a "hot" degree one year may seem utterly forgotten five years later, further compounding the pressures upon students who are eager to learn but are also eager to earn a paycheck. As a result, someone who looks at the humanities and does not see an immediate "marketability" to such a diverse and complex field of study may think the humanities to be "impractical," courses that may produce graduates who can perhaps discuss the finer points of poetry or the nuances of philosophy, but incapable of entering the workforce.
However, as employers are now discovering, humanities majors are not only well equipped to enter the workforce, but that the all-encompassing nature of the humanities prepares students for a variety of diverse positions in the workforce. For example, my own experience as an English major prepared me to work for over a decade as a corporate copywriter. My knowledge of writing provided me with a strong foundation of grammar and mechanics; being exposed to prose and poetry showed me how I could create advertising copy with economy and musicality; and the study of history, language, and philosophy created a sense of empathy that enabled me to connect my copy with the general public. From that large body of interlocking fields of study, my employer was able to find me more than prepared to fill the position.
Philosophy majors increasingly find work in the fields of artificial intelligence, English majors find themselves working in the mass media or even economics, history majors enter the workforce as corporate archivists, and so on. Indeed, the knowledge gained from a humanities education prepares students to become more engaged, more knowledgeable individuals, but it also prepares them to face the ever-shifting challenges in the workforce.
To that end, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP has been created to facilitate the growth of the humanities in the El Paso Borderland region and, more importantly, to enhance the experiences and opportunities for El Paso Community College students by developing stimulating collaborative experiences between students and staff at both EPCC and UTEP. Faculty and students at EPCC and UTEP team up to create humanities-centered research projects that aim to reach out into the community, helping to enrich the lives of the public while simultaneously developing technical and academic skills for students that will help them in academia and the workforce. The Collaborative's initiatives include funded internships and research assistantships, funding for doctoral students to develop curricula and to teach community college students in the humanities, and opportunities for humanities graduates currently in the workforce to visit with and conduct workshops with students in the humanities. As the program grows, we aim to grow the number of humanities students and to grow the awareness of the humanities in our everyday lives in the surrounding communities.
The student and faculty blogs are the "heart" this website. We hope to inform readers of the progress of our program and the growth of our students, but we also hope to show others students and our communities the sheer diversity of experiences and opportunities that the humanities provide for us constantly. After all, it is not enough to simply know that the air is there, but that it sustains us, surrounds us, and is everywhere we go.
Written by Vincent C. Martinez
Program Manager, The Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP
A couple of days ago, I came across an article about a letter written by John Steinbeck to Marilyn Monroe—yes, the Nobel-prize winner to the curvy sex symbol. But what would a literary writer be asking from the Hollywood bombshell?