By Branden LaCroix
The Mancuso Humanities Workforce Preparation Center (MHWPC), which was established in 2020, held an official “grand opening” April 10.
Local business leaders and FSU faculty and administrators were in attendance. State Rep. Jack Lewis (D-Framingham/Ashland) also attended.
Halcyon Mancuso, founder and executive director of the MHWPC, said the center’s opening was originally supposed to be held in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was postponed.
The MHWPC’s goals are to raise awareness of the value humanities studies can offer to both students and employers, aid students majoring in the humanities to prepare for and gain employment, and help Framingham State increase enrollment in humanities majors, according to the FSU website.
The center also helps FSU faculty in the humanities develop semester-long programs and internships through its Faculty Fellowship Program.
President Nancy Niemi said, “I am honored to be here as a president whose career began and continues via my own work in the humanities.
“I am delighted to be here to help everybody to see how it enriches all of our lives,” she said.
Niemi said, “All of our majors and minors - languages, world history, American studies, English, literature, philosophy, art, religion - were woven as they always have been into aspects of everything we do, and it's our job to help people see that they're inseparable from the rest of our lives.”
She added, “We’re humans, so we can’t have the humanities not be a part of our work outside the University itself.”
Paula Krebs, executive director of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and honorary advisory board member of the Mancuso Center, was invited to the opening as the keynote speaker.
Bridgette Sheridan, history professor, introduced Krebs and spoke about meeting Krebs at the National Humanities Alliance conference in Salt Lake City, UT in 2016.
She said Krebs talked about her time as dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bridgewater State University. “I was excited about what she'd done at Bridgewater and I knew that she had to get up to Framingham State to help us raise the profile of the humanities.”
Krebs said, “In order to make sure that undergraduates understand the value of the education they're getting in our fields, we have to be specific. We have to name skills, values, perspectives that come from our courses, and our majors, minors, and certificates.”
Krebs said universities need to work to change the negative “national story” concerning the humanities.
She said, “There's a national story about how irrelevant we are, and how useless our degrees are.
“And then there's a national story about how dangerous we are and how scary our courses are and how they need to be reined in and controlled,” she added.
Krebs said this “double narrative” stems from the fact the humanities teach students how to “interpret the world they're in so that they can intervene in the world.”
She said the MHWPC and its work is a valuable asset in combating the narrative that currently exists in the U.S.
Concerning the role of the humanities, Krebs said she often says, “The arts create, and the humanities interpret.
“We interpret the arts, we interpret writing, we interpret music. We in the humanities ask students to understand what's going on in a particular social interaction, historical document, musical composition, and what difference that makes,” she said.
Krebs said the MLA received a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop better practices concerning the recruitment, retention, and career readiness for students of color, first-generation students, and Pell Grant recipients in the humanities.
She said the practices developed would be implemented by departments and institutions to aid them in their recruitment and retention initiatives.
She added the MLA will also help faculty with data collection so they know which areas of their coursework and programs need to be reviewed.
Krebs said she was delighted to have government representatives attending because “these are the folks who need to be around the table, because they will help us to collect the information that our students will need in order to make the case for their employment after graduation.”
She added the MHWPC is important because it “works not just with students and putting them in internships and helping them get jobs, but with faculty members to help them understand the kinds of interventions they can make … so that students graduate with having been able to follow their passion into the humanities because they love it, and show their family the skills, values, and perspectives they've gotten from that study.”
In an interview following the ceremony, Krebs said she doesn't know of any other institutions that have a humanities center similar to the MHWPC.
“It’s highly unusual for an institution to invest in the humanities” as much as Framingham State, she said.
Desmond McCarthy, English professor and assistant director of the MHWPC, said, “Halcyon Mancuso’s generosity in funding this center and her vision for showing how vital humanities skills are in the twenty-first-century knowledge-based economy are inspiring.”
Mancuso said the MHWPC has three main initiatives: the annual Faculty Fellowship Program, a career readiness program, and the student intern stipend.
She said the annual Faculty Fellowship Program supports “humanities faculty-proposed projects that further our student career readiness mission at a divisional and departmental level.”
English Professor Colleen Coyne was the first Mancuso Center Fellow and developed the website for the MHWPC.
Coyne said she worked with Mancuso and McCarthy to develop the center’s messaging and “to think about our overall goals for communicating what we do to our key audiences: our students and families, our employers, and faculty at Framingham State.”
She said many students feel pressured to choose a “more practical” major, adding the MHWPC wants “to make it really clear that studying the humanities is both enjoyable - it's a passion - and it's practical, and we want to be there to support students.”
Joanne Britland, professor of Spanish and Portuguese, was the faculty fellow in 2022, and she explained the project she developed and why she chose to become a fellow.
She said her project was “Preparing FSU Students for a Multilingual Workforce, Spanish for the Professions, and Pathways to Internships,” noting the increase of the need for bilingual employees in the workforce.
According to a report from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), “Making Languages Our Business: Addressing Foreign Language Demand Among U.S. Employers,” nine out of 10 employers say they rely on employees proficient in a language other than English.
The report also indicated that employer need for bilingual employees doubled between 2010 and 2015.
Britland also quoted an ACTFL report that stated by 2050, Hispanics will comprise approximately 30% of the U.S. population and by 2060, the U.S. will become the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country.
Britland said in 2021, 51% of FSU’s incoming students identified as first-generation.
Her goal as a faculty fellow was to guide students through application processes and to establish connections with companies and organizations in the Boston and MetroWest areas that are seeking bilingual employees, the names of which she compiled into a database to be used by her students.
As a faculty fellow, she designed the course SPAN 225: Business Communication in Spanish, which is a gen-ed course with a prerequisite of Intermediate Spanish I or appropriate placement test score.
She said in her course, students learn the process of applying for jobs using the database she created and make appointments with the Career Center for resumé preparation and to undergo mock interviews.
Students also created ePortfolios of “cultural work” they produced over the semester, which were uploaded to a site they created through GoogleSites.
Britland said the students were then able to show their work to employers at career events and forums and they learned how to network with various companies, which gave them an opportunity to use their Spanish.
She said, “The project promotes equity by teaching students the process of applying for jobs and helping to prepare them for career readiness, many of whom might not have had exposure to learning how to apply for jobs.”
Britland said, “We must provide our students with tools to allow them to achieve success in an increasingly competitive job market.
“As an emerging Hispanic Serving Institution, FSU educators have an even greater duty to create courses and programs that address the needs of our student population, many of whom are first-generation students,” she added.
The second initiative of the MHWPC is its Career Readiness Initiative, part of which Mancuso said is the Career Readiness Summer Working Group, an “annual paid summer professional development opportunity for arts and humanities faculty,” which allows them “to reframe one of their courses in terms of career competencies.”
She said the group enrolled in the program works collaboratively to learn about career readiness and different ways to make “career competency categories” clearer for students through faculty syllabi, pedagogy, and “class artifacts.”