In this day and age, when students fret about their employability and debt upon their graduation, what role does a strong background in humanities and social sciences play?
Yaw Asamoah, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at IUP, will tell you plenty.
An economist who moved from the faculty to the college administrator’s position 10 years ago, Asamoah believes his college to be the heart and soul of the university’s academic experience.
The college serves as the administrative umbrella for the departments of Economics, English, Foreign Languages, Anthropology, Sociology, History, Journalism, Philosophy, Political Science, Religious Studies, and Geography and Regional Planning. Every student in the university passes through the college’s figurative doors to complete general requirements—and those doors are spread across campus. Currently the departments are located in McElhaney, Keith, Leonard, Davis, and Sutton halls.
“Disciplines in the humanities and social sciences provide a foundation to the undergraduate education experience,” Asamoah said. “No matter what major a student pursues, a modern society demands people who can read and write and express themselves well—people who are globally aware, can think critically, are cognizant of their heritage, and who are problem solvers. The major programs and core course work of the college help all students acquire these skills, no matter what their major course of study might be.”
But a modern-day education in those disciplines requires more than classroom space, white boards, desks, paper, and pencils.
Next spring, IUP will break ground for a new building—one that will help to consolidate the college’s operations and provide a more collegial atmosphere that will foster collaboration. After its completion, Leonard and Keith halls will be razed. Eventually, as part of the long-range campus master plan, a new science building will be erected, and part of it will use the space now occupied by Leonard Hall. The long-range master plan also calls for the eventual replacement of Foster Dining Hall. Its replacement will be at the current site of Keith Hall.
The new humanities and social sciences building will be next to Stapleton Library, on the lawn that now exists between Clark and Sutton halls. In addition to classrooms and faculty office space, it will include a 250-seat auditorium, a great hall, an atrium and coffee shop, eight conference rooms, two collaborative classrooms, a public artifacts room, specialty classrooms and labs, and, if the college’s administration gets its wish, a rooftop plaza for meeting and social space.
“The opportunities to enhance collaboration between departments and bring many of them under one roof will be tremendous,” Asamoah said. “It will give us the added power to do more than we ever have before. Unfortunately, Leonard and Keith halls just don’t have the right space and prevent us from delivering the kind of instruction that maximizes student learning. The new building will enable us to strengthen the collaborative learning communities we have nurtured among our students and faculty.”
Scott Moore chairs the History Department and for many years has led students to Cyprus for hands-on study. While the new building will provide those in his department with a more temperate atmosphere—the heating system in Keith often malfunctions, forcing students to wear coats in class during the winter—he said studies in social sciences and humanities fields today are different from decades ago.
“Despite the fact that history is a discipline that some people might believe only needs the basics—pencils, papers, and desks—the field has been evolving rapidly over the last 20 years by taking advantage of new media and new technologies and using these digital tools to develop historical knowledge and make it available to an ever-growing number of people,” Moore said. “History majors need the opportunity to learn and interact with these technologies if they are going to be competitive in their careers.”
According to Gian Pagnucci, chair of the English Department, even in the Digital Age, the study of English grows more important every day.
“New technologies keep changing how we read and write, from Facebook and Twitter to texting and blogging, but people’s skills at reading and writing remain as important as ever,” Pagnucci said.
To teach effectively in this new age, IUP’s English Department needs a new building equipped with the latest writing and communication technologies, he said.
“In its day, Leonard Hall was a fine building in which to study English, but as the world of reading and writing continues to evolve, having a new building will give tomorrow’s IUP students a chance to study the digital English which is their future.”
Asamoah believes competitiveness is another incentive. Students at other universities are learning history, political science, geography, and English in buildings that house state-of-the-art technology. He stressed that providing the best educational environment for students helps make IUP more competitive in delivering on its core mission.
Noting the new building also will house two of IUP’s oldest and largest doctoral programs, both in the English Department, and seven master’s degree programs, Asamoah said, “This building will be the intellectual heart of the entire campus. Every undergraduate will pass through its doors.”
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