A Hunger for the Humanities
Nurturing a passion for the human experience and transforming that passion into rewarding careers that contribute to society are at the heart of a new interdisciplinary major that will be offered at Baylor for the first time in the fall of 2022.
The new Humanities Research Fellows major in the College of Arts & Sciences acknowledges that while there is so much focus on STEM subjects — those dealing with science, technology, engineering and math — in education today, there still is a great need to equip non-STEM students who are passionate about how people relate and live together.
“Many students don’t see the immediate relevance or practicality of the humanities,” said Dr. Paul Martens, associate professor of ethics in the religion department and director of the new major. “This program emerged as a response to illustrate that the humanities are foundational for who we are, foundational for why we’re here, and foundational for what we ought to do with our lives.”
“This program emerged as a response to illustrate that the humanities are foundational for who we are, foundational for why we’re here, and foundational for what we ought to do with our lives.”
–Dr. Paul Martens
Dr. Lee Nordt, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said the new Humanities Research Fellows major provides motivations and opportunities for students who have a real passion for areas not in the sciences. He said it also affirms to students and their parents that the humanities can be the foundation for careers that are both viable and rewarding.
“Humanities students have a great track record of employment,” Nordt said. “Their career paths are sometimes more indirect than someone coming out of a professional program, but they tend to get where they want to go — and that often includes positions of leadership.”
The Humanities Research Fellows major allows students to engage in the humanities with topics and areas of study across different disciplines. At Baylor, that list includes the classics; philosophy; religion; modern foreign languages and cultures; history; English; art and art history; communications; and film and digital media.
“It’s an expansive understanding of humanities, so in that sense Humanities Research Fellows is interdisciplinary,” Martens said. “And it only works because our departments and the disciplines they represent are excellent. Students have a chance to build on that in a complementary way.”
Humanities Research Fellows will be required to take 38 hours of the Arts & Sciences unified core curriculum, which provides all A&S students with common knowledge, liberal education skills and virtues. It’s important to note that the core courses help students qualify for Phi Beta Kappa, which in turn gives them a résumé boost when applying for graduate school. Like all Arts & Sciences students, Humanities Research Fellows are required to take chapel and a course in public service and philanthropy, as well as take part in a number of creative arts experiences.
Forty-two hours of electives within the humanities will help focus the major, providing students with greater depth that will benefit them as they apply for postgraduate studies or employment. Humanities Research Fellows also will have 47 hours of open electives — enough to provide room for a second major, if desired.
“This really enables the major to be student-driven and student-oriented. It allows students to take charge of their program,” Martens said.
Beginning in their second year of their curriculum, Fellows will take part in a humanities lab with the other students in their cohort that will be team-taught by faculty who are committed to sharing the four years with that cohort. In their fourth year, Fellows will complete a capstone research project that began in their second year.
The First Cohort
“This is a program oriented toward high-achieving students who will be invited to apply to the program once they’ve been accepted by Baylor,” Martens said.
When the first full cohort of Humanities Research Fellows arrives on campus for the fall 2022 semester, it’s expected they will number no more than 20 students. So, who will ultimately be interested in the major?
“I think it would be the kind of program that would be great for people going into law, and it would also be ideal for people seeking careers in diplomacy and international relations,” Martens said. “It will be great for anyone who has to deal with people in their work. Statistics show that even in business, at the end of the day, students with humanities degrees are frequently successful in navigating many of the challenges that real life places in front of them.”
Nordt added that the unique experience that the Fellows will have — working with a faculty mentor on a research project and being part of a small cohort of fellow students — will bode well for them whether entering the workforce or applying for graduate school or professional programs.
“Having that experience will be viewed very favorably,” Nordt said.
Building the Program
The creators of the Humanities Research Fellows program knew that faculty buy-in across the broad range of represented disciplines would be a key to its success, Martens said, and for that reason an interdisciplinary committee was formed to brainstorm and plan the program. Dr. Deirdre Fulton, associate professor of Hebrew Bible and Old Testament in the religion department, chaired the committee.
“We had been impressed with both the Business Fellows and the Science Research Fellows programs here at Baylor, so we used those as launching points to create something that could attract exceptional students in the humanities,” Fulton said.
“What’s really neat about Humanities Research Fellows is that students will be becoming part of a cohort, part of a community where they’re asking modern questions,” she said. “They might be using ancient ways to study it or studying about the ancient world, but they’ll be dealing with modern issues such as food and water, and that’s something that’s going to unify them.”
While the camaraderie of the cohort will be essential, each Humanities Fellow will have a unique academic experience.
“There will be a project in their senior year, and that project will be something that they’ll be working with faculty to create,” Fulton said, “so it can be envisioned in different ways depending on what type of humanities you’re focusing on. If you’re in the visual arts or something like that, that’s going to look different than somebody who’s in history or classics.”
“What’s really neat about Humanities Research Fellows is that students will be becoming part of a cohort, part of a community where they’re asking modern questions. They might be using ancient ways to study it or studying about the ancient world, but they’ll be dealing with modern issues.”
–Dr. Deirdre Fulton
As with the Science Research Fellows program (introduced in 2017), it is expected that Humanities Research Fellows students will help shape the new major — for themselves and future students — as the program goes forward.
“I know by the time students in the first cohort are seniors, they will have helped us breathe life into the program. They will help us know what’s really successful and where we could tweak it, and I’m very excited about what this will be,” Fulton said. “I think there are students who really love the humanities but don’t know what that looks like, and don’t even know they love to research but they’re going to get to do it.”
Martens, likewise, is excited about how the program will take shape over time.
“Who constitutes the cohort of students and who constitutes the coordinating faculty will determine the flavor of each incoming class,” he said. “I think that’s going to be wonderful. I can’t wait to see what emerges because our faculty are going to gravitate toward very different themes that will organize the conversations, and our students will come with their own questions, their own sets of agendas. That’s exactly what a university should be.”