In 2019, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the Mondavi Center, UC Davis, a $600,000 multi-year grant to support a new approach to undergraduate education called SHAPE (Science, Humanities and Arts: Process and Engagement).
In partnership with University Honors Program, First-Year Seminars, and the UC Davis Humanities Institute, we developed SHAPE in response to Mellon’s invitation to “create new curricular and research models…demonstrating the significance of the performing arts to the teaching and research mission of your university.”
Piloting a new approach within the undergraduate curriculum, SHAPE is built around team-taught seminars in which students encounter the science and engineering and the humanities, arts, and humanistic social sciences, integrated to express, and examine the power that each of these holds as means of responding to our world and addressing critical issues. With the SHAPE project, we are moving away from the too‐narrow specializations and knowledge sets that our disciplinary‐driven undergraduate education system can produce. We believe that participating students’ exposure to cross‐disciplinary analysis and problem‐solving better prepare them to enter our complex world.
Specifically, SHAPE is providing grant-funded resources for faculty to create a unique series of 11 courses over the 2020‐21 and 21‐22 academic years. Chancellor May appointed and is participating in a faculty Steering Committee which selected the courses through a competitive process. The actively engaged committee continuous to assess the project’s progress. SHAPE Seminars are unique in key ways:
- Foundation funds make co-teaching possible: Each course is fully co‐taught by one faculty member from science/engineering and one faculty member from arts/humanities/humanistic social sciences; SHAPE funding complements University resources, to enable both faculty members to participate fully in the course over the entire quarter.
- SHAPE puts the resources of a major performing arts center at the disposal of cross‐disciplinary teaching teams: With the guidance of the Mondavi Center, each teaching team is able to choose a performing artist or ensemble whose work is integrated into the course curriculum during a custom-designed residency and will perform for the public at the Mondavi Center. Teaching faculty participate with the artists in public enrichment activities—lectures, symposia, Q&A’s—helping to communicate the learnings of the SHAPE courses to a wider audience.
- Courses are built around major societal issues: With UC Davis’ emphasis on an education that prepares students to address “the needs and challenges of a diverse and changing world,” faculty built seminars around issues of importance in today’s world.
As a pilot project, our hope is that these SHAPE courses will be the forerunner for a future SHAPE minor, available to undergraduates from all disciplines. We also anticipate that, through the SHAPE project, UC Davis will build a faculty cohort invested in the complementary values of the humanities and arts and science and engineering, as means of understanding and addressing our world. Finally, it is our hope that the SHAPE partnership will become a model for building additional collaborations which integrate the artistic and academic enterprises on our campus, enriching our students’ education.