Pitt REES Awarded NEH Community College Partnership Grant on East European Cultures

by Gina Peirce, Assistant Director, Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh

The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Russian and East European Studies (REES) was recently awarded a grant through the “Bridging Cultures with Community Colleges” program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Through this federally funded project, which will run from September 2014 through February 2017, REES will partner with the Community College of Beaver County (located in Western Pennsylvania) to internationalize CCBC’s curriculum by introducing humanities content on Eastern Europe into existing courses and developing a new course on the literature of the region.

The central theme of this “Bridging Cultures” project will be change and adaption as viewed through the lens of East European cultural studies. Four subthemes will also be explored:Flyer graphic economic adaptation; changing gender roles; cultural differences in changing communities; and values, traditions and social mores. Countries in which a significant number of Beaver County residents had ancestors—including Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine—will be highlighted as case studies to draw on the interest of CCBC students and instructors in their own family backgrounds. CCBC faculty will benefit through exposure to culturally diverse readings that can be used as springboards to both academic and student-focused discussion. Students at CCBC will benefit through developing a greater appreciation of their ancestral cultures when faced with change and adaptation, therefore acquiring enhanced intellectual resources and resiliency in the context of Beaver County’s loss of thousands of industrial jobs since the collapse of the local steel industry three decades ago. They also will gain knowledge of current cultural studies scholarship in a context relevant to their academic and professional goals. 

Up to 20 full-time and adjunct faculty members from a variety of CCBC departments and programs will be selected to participate in the project. The first stage will be a bimonthly evening workshop series in spring 2015 on East European history, cultures and literature, with discussions based on readings selected by the two REES faculty co-coordinators, Joel Brady and Ljiljana Đurašković. Next, a monthly speaker and discussion series in fall 2015 through spring 2016 will connect the CCBC faculty participants with leaders of East European ethnic communities in Western Pennsylvania, international scholars, and community members in several East European cities, facilitated in part through videoconferencing with U.S. State Department-sponsored “American Corners” located in countries throughout the region.

During the project, all faculty participants will develop learning modules in their own academic fields to incorporate into their courses at CCBC, using content from the workshop readings in consultation with Drs. Brady and Đurašković. In addition, a new Eastern Europe-focused section of CCBC’s existing “World Literature” course will be introduced in fall 2015, initially team-taught by Pitt and CCBC instructors and then taught solely by a CCBC instructor in subsequent terms. The faculty participants will present their course modules to their peers at a showcase event in fall 2016 and post them on a website designed to encourage replication of the project activities at other institutions. REES and CCBC look forward to disseminating the curriculum enhancement model developed through this project to support internationalization initiatives at other community colleges, both in the Western Pennsylvania region and nationally.

For more information on the Pitt/CCBC “Bridging Cultures” project, please contact REES Assistant Director Gina Peirce at gbpeirce@pitt.edu.