One rainbow-glowing lightbulb hanging from a row of unlit bulbs above itLynn Botelho, Distinguished University Professor and professor of history at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is the recipient of a $200,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation – the National Endowment for the Humanities to implement the Big Ideas: Transformative Culture and the Professions program at IUP.

Botelho, along with co-directors Bryna Siegel Finer and Melanie Holm, faculty in the IUP English Department, will lead a team of faculty across the university to offer the certificate program, which is designed to integrate and embed the liberal arts into student career preparation.

The program is specifically designed for pre-professional and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students, but is open to students in all majors. Students who complete the program will earn the Big Ideas certificate.

“In this program, students work closely with faculty to gain a deeper understanding of the modern world and communicate more effectively across all disciplines,” Botelho said.

“The Big Ideas program uses a series of relevant themes and ‘transformative texts’ to guide students along the path to more confident, graceful, and effective communication and critical thinking. While it is designed specifically for preprofessional and STEM students (but open to all students), the Big Ideas certificate boosts every student's overall marketability and comes at a smart value, because it integrates seamlessly into the Liberal Studies requirements,” she said.

“Transformative texts” are defined as major works of literature, philosophy, historical sources, and religious books, as well as theater, poetry, and song, that encourage creative thinking, imaginative capacities, and problem solving. These texts are defined by the Big Ideas work group, in consultation with expert resource people and teaching faculty, and the work group collects feedback from Big Ideas faculty and adjusts texts according to student compatibility.

“The use of these transformative texts is designed to encourage creative thinking, imaginative capacities, and problem solving,” Botelho said.

“The Big Ideas program adds to a student’s communication skills, critical thinking skills, and those ‘soft skills’ that employers tell us they want and need,” Botelho said. “It sets students apart from other applicants by also giving them an expanded world view that is necessary in today’s global economy. We believe it will make them more successful in the workplace, as well as citizen-leaders in their communities.”

This is IUP’s second Teagle Foundation grant for the Big Ideas project.

In 2020, Botelho received an initial $25,000 planning grant from the Teagle Foundation to plan and pilot the Big Ideas initiative at IUP. This funding enabled the planning committee to further develop their own expertise in the pedagogy of transformative texts.

With the support of the planning grant, the planning committee was able to work across the university to build relationships with campus partners, scaffolding resources into the program itself, Botelho said.

“Big Ideas is proud to partner with the Writing Center to provide dedicated tutors, with the University College to embed peer tutors in our courses, with Writing Across the Curriculum to guide our students’ ePortfolios/web pages, with the Center for Career and Professional Development to jumpstart career-readiness and professional practices, and with Promising Scholars to enhance the academic and professional development of our students,” Botelho said. “This collaborative approach increases the reach and impact of Big Ideas and provides students with a firmer grounding in the skills that will give them that competitive edge in the workplace.”

“The resulting Big Ideas certificate is the result of robust collaboration between faculty members in the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and the professions as they co-design a curriculum in a financially sustainable way and with the particular needs of IUP students at its core,” Botelho said.

The initial funding also allowed Botelho to speak at the Aspen Institute; to host an IUP reflective practice meeting; and to bring Melinda Zook, a professor of history at Purdue University who has been recognized for excellence in teaching, to IUP’s campus for a public presentation and a faculty workshop. Zook developed the Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts program at Purdue, an undergraduate program designed to reach all students and encourage them to broaden their understanding of the world and themselves and strengthen their communication and critical-thinking skills through general education courses.

“This outreach elevated IUP’s reputation while spreading awareness of the Big Ideas certificate,” Botelho said.

This 2022 grant provides funding for implementation of the program, with the goal of “scaling up” Big Ideas to reach at least 20 percent of incoming students. “Demand for the foundation course has been high, and it is growing,” she said. “The inaugural class in fall 2021 was 30 students. This fall, Big Ideas will be teaching 175 students.”

Specifically, the implementation funding will support the training and development of faculty through teaching circles and other programming; fund graduate and doctoral students as tutors and instructors in the program; and provide out-of-classroom experiences for participating students that will enhance the impact of Big Ideas—such as visiting museums, attending theatrical productions, and an annual trip to Pittsburgh.

“The entire community will benefit as Big Ideas hosts public intellectuals and academics such as Roosevelt Montas (Columbia University) whose background mirrors that of many of our own students,” Botelho said.

“IUP’s Big Ideas program is designed to integrate the humanities into our students’ often demanding credit loads, rather than adding additional time and expense,” she said.

Every IUP student is required to complete 40 credits of Liberal Studies courses (depending on the major); Big Ideas courses count toward the IUP Liberal Studies requirements.

“Big Ideas also will pay special attention to providing students with career-specific undergraduate research experiences, drawing together their career aspirations and the world of the humanities to provide them with a professionally meaningful capstone experience,” she said.

Two College of Arts and Humanities classes (which qualify for Liberal Studies credit) lay the foundation in the students’ first year through the reading and discussion of transformative texts.

During years two and three, Big Ideas students take additional humanities courses in one or more of the four themes that reflect their career interests: Law and Government; Mind, Body, and Health; Management, Information, and Organization; and Science and the Environment.

During their senior year, students integrate their preprofessional and humanities training into a final capstone project. Capstone projects can be as diverse as “population study and community ecology” to “personal debt management and the campus community.”

“Big Ideas taught me how to think in a way I never knew I wanted or could, taking my learning abilities to the next step,” said Jordan Buchanich, a May human resources management graduate. “Even though I didn’t have a chance to complete the program, the foundation courses were incredibly beneficial.”