English Professor Halcyon Mancuso has donated $30,000 a year to fund a humanities-based career center named in her honor.
The amount is set to increase to $50,000 annually over the next five years.
From sharpening critical thinking skills, to developing strong research and analytical abilities, she said the role of humanities disciplines is incalculable in shaping society for the better.
“Pair these habits of mind with essential skills such as understanding and using social media, being comfortable with using numbers as a form of evidence, advanced reading and writing skills, and skills learned during internships in the business world, and you have exactly what is necessary for the 21st-century workplace.”
In 2018, Mancuso donated $2.4 million to fund humanities scholarships. Currently in its second year, Mancuso’s scholarship program will eventually fund eight full four-year scholarships at a time – four English majors, and four social sciences and/or humanities majors.
But as she listened to feedback from students and professors about the program, she began to believe even more work could be done to communicate the litany of benefits of a humanities education to FSU students and faculty, as well as the wider community.
She saw that “most professors didn’t know Career Services [has] a four-year curriculum,” an in-depth guide on steps to take each year of college to prepare for the workforce, she said. “So after that, I was talking to [English Department Chair] Desmond McCarthy about how I was really wishing we could push this more broadly than just these scholars.”
From this “transformative” conversation in May 2018, Mancuso said the concept for The Mancuso Humanities Workforce Preparation Center was born.
Mancuso and McCarthy then discussed goals, wrote a proposal, and drafted and revised guidelines.
The materials went through a lengthy review process this fall. The center was approved by the Board of Trustees March 24.
McCarthy said Marc Cote, dean of arts and humanities, also helped by formatting the proposal and presenting it to the administration.
McCarthy, who serves as the center’s assistant director, described Mancuso’s vision for the center as “revolutionary.”
He said the center will help promote the value of the humanities, pay students undertaking internships with local businesses and groups, and fund a yearly “faculty fellow” from one of the six humanities departments to conduct community outreach to learn about workforce needs and opportunities for humanities graduates.
The center, directed by Mancuso, will have an advisory board with a representative from each department, as well as a number of ad-hoc members. These ad-hoc members will include Dawn Ross, Career Services director, Marc Cote, Dean of Arts and Humanities, and Paula Krebbs, executive director of the Modern Language Association of America.
Mancuso said Krebbs “brings some street-cred to the University, shall we say.” After receiving a $1 million Mellon grant, Krebbs “wants to use the grant to put the full force of MLA behind the humanities and career preparation. Down the road, she’s really interested in coordinating with organizations around the nation, and I think Framingham State would definitely be one of them.”
The center will also host an annual dinner to celebrate the success of interns and fellows, and honor a leading supporter of the center’s work.
McCarthy applauded Mancuso’s “tireless dedication” to establishing the center.
“Halcyon is a woman I admire so much,” he said. “When someone is that dedicated to Framingham State, I just admire that enormously. She’s not just a friend – she’s a personal hero. Her devotion to the mission of preparing humanities majors for the workforce is so commendable. It’s been such an honor to help her achieve her goal.”
He added, “Framingham State is going to be a national leader in humanities education and in humanities workforce preparation – I have no doubt about that. … The Mancuso Center will serve as a beacon of promise for all who believe in the value of humanities education. Halcyon Mancuso’s vision will have a transformative impact on the humanities at Framingham State, and will make this university a regional and national model for preparing humanities students for fulfilling careers after college.”
The center will have a small office in Foster Hall, he said, but will “largely exist as a virtual space” for information and resources about humanities workforce preparation.
English Professor Colleen Coyne served as the first faculty fellow for the center for the 2019-20 academic year. In that role, she has helped build that virtual space, working on both the website and the center’s social media presence.
Coyne explained the site will “have a repository of the latest news and research about the value of studying the humanities, the employment trends for humanities majors – which have been strong – and the benefits of hiring humanities majors in every industry.”
She added key features will be sharing stories about interesting projects of current humanities students, as well as success stories of humanities alumni who have gone on to pursue interesting careers.
“I’ve gotten a chance to talk with students and colleagues about some amazing endeavors, and I’m excited to share these when the sites launch,” she said.
Coyne, like future fellows, received a course release funded by Mancuso for both semesters she served.
Mancuso said in the future, the center will be seeking interns to help translate content on the website to Spanish and Portuguese in an effort to help serve the growing Latinx community at FSU and attract students from diverse backgrounds. Another intern will be needed to assist with posting content to the website under the guidance of Sara Mulkeen, manager of digital communications and interactive media.
Beyond internships at the center itself, Mancuso stressed partnering with MetroWest businesses and organizations to create student internship positions is a primary goal.
She said faculty fellows may also work to bring in speakers from these organizations for lectures and workshops.
Each of the student interns funded by Mancuso’s annual donation to the center – including interns working off-campus and interns specifically working for the center itself – will receive a stipend equivalent to the cost of a course at FSU. There will be four interns funded in 2020-21 and six in 2021-22.
Still, the center’s plans to support student internships have been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The big questions [are] – ‘Are there going to be any internships available for students because everyone is working from home or furloughed?’ ‘How many businesses are going to shut down and never open?’ These are some pretty existential questions. … It’s all kind of up in the air,” she said.
But while the center could face a rocky start due to the pandemic, Mancuso is confident about its long-term success, hopeful it will serve as a model for colleges across the nation to follow FSU’s lead. A dean from Fitchburg State University has already voiced interest in the center, she added.
Humanities education teaches skills such creativity and flexibility, which are helpful in adapting to changing job markets, she explained. As many industries could shift dramatically post-quarantine, “preparing students so they can always have a job in industry ‘x’ is not the way to go. We have to think broadly, and think about what skills will be useful in every sort of job.”
The pandemic “is shining a bright light on the fact there’s no such thing as a perfectly secure job,” she added, but “there is such a thing as a person who can persevere and … reimagine themselves. I think humanities majors are a creative bunch, and that’s ultimately going to serve them well.
“We can’t predict what jobs or industries will be here in 10 years or how different they may operate from what we’re used to now. However, we can, with certainty, say that the essential skills and perspectives that humanities majors learn and develop will be important always and will help them move up the ladder in their careers.”
Mancuso stressed how career preparedness and humanities classes don’t have to be an “either-or” situation. She said professors can easily adjust their classes by being intentional in communicating the value and skills of their education to students.
She then elaborated on the center’s relationship to classroom environments, stating, “The MHWPC needs to focus on messaging to our constituencies – students [and] parents, faculty, employers – on being intentionally transparent about where, in our classrooms, we are helping students develop such essential skills and perspectives, on helping students ‘translate’ their classroom and internship experiences into resume language that catches the eyes of employers, and to cultivate a ‘pay-it-forward’ attitude among our graduates.”
Administrators expressed great enthusiasm for the Mancuso Center’s future and the role it plans to play in preparing students for satisfying careers.
Eric Gustafson, vice president of development and alumni relations, thanked Mancuso, saying, “We’re very excited that Halcyon Mancuso is generously making this opportunity available to our students, and we can’t wait to see the center launch.”
Mancuso said she hopes to have Gov. Charlie Baker speak at the opening event, who was himself an English major at Harvard University.
President F. Javier Cevallos said, “I think the center is going to be an excellent complement to our Office of Career Services and Employer Relations. As the cost of higher education has risen, and students and families have begun thinking harder about job prospects after graduation, the humanities have seen large declines in support and enrollment across the country.
“The irony is that the humanities provide students with vital skills that employers are looking for. Time and again, employers indicate that new employees lack skills like critical thinking, writing, and the ability to think creatively and abstractly. These are exactly the types of skills the humanities provide, so my hope for the center is that it helps our humanities students market themselves to employers and encourages them to consider career opportunities that may not have even been on their radar,” he said.
Cevallos thanked Mancuso for her “passionate advocacy” for the center and for her generosity funding it, along with the Mancuso Scholarships.
Cevallos also extended gratitude to McCarthy and Coyne for their efforts, along with Gustafson; Dale Hamel, executive vice president; Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs; and Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees, for their roles.
“It was a real team effort, and I’m very grateful to all,” he added.
[Editor’s note: Desmond McCarthy is advisor of The Gatepost.]