Madeline Kriete draws a direct line between the humanities courses she took as a first-year liberal arts major at Great Bay Community College and her desire to begin her career helping New Hampshire’s vulnerable children and their families.
She switched her major and will graduate from Great Bay in December with an associate of arts in psychology. But she might not have discovered her interest in the field if not for her exposure to a range of subjects that she experienced as a liberal arts major.
“My first year at Great Bay, I was able to take classes across many departments, which is the valuable aspect of a liberal arts education. It allowed me to realize specifically what I wanted to do,” Kriete said. “When I looked at all the classes I had taken, 75 percent of them fulfilled the requirement for a psychology degree. After seeing all the choices I was continuously going back to, I realized I should pursue psychology in more depth,” she said.
After she graduates from Great Bay, Kriete expects to join the staff of Division for Children, Youth and Families to gain professional experience in the field and then pursue a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. She is among a growing wave of students who are taking courses in the humanities as they sort their options and hone their career choices.
Interest in the humanities is on the uptick after a decades-long decline related to an emphasis on STEM studies. According to recent research by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, high school students’ interest in the humanities is outpacing other academic fields two-to-one. That analysis is based on course credits and Advanced Placement data from the U.S. Department of Education and the College Board. Students took more than 2 million AP humanities exams in 2020, while 1 million completed behavioral and social science courses. The natural sciences, math, and the arts followed.
Great Bay has increased the size of its humanities faculty and the depth of its course offerings in recent years, adding to its catalog of options in English, history, and other subjects, and refining existing courses to create direct transfer pathways for students to four-year institutions. In addition, the college provides students the ability to tailor their educational interests and outcomes, including grant-funded undergraduate research opportunities.
The humanities and social sciences include such subjects as history, English, fine arts, foreign languages, and civics. During a time when higher education promises outcomes that result in skill-specific careers, courses in the humanities and social sciences teach skills valuable to students who are interested in a range of careers, including in the sciences and medicine, information and technology, education, business, engineering law enforcement, and many others.
“Everyone still needs to write and tell meaningful stories, whether those meaningful stories are because you want the customer to buy your product or because you need to explain how to build something,” said Dr. Aimee Huard, professor and chair of social sciences. “The goal of the social sciences and the humanities is to teach you how to think around and through a problem, and not necessarily at them. We are teaching students to think about the things they don’t know yet.”
Great Bay offers a range of humanities and social sciences options, including majors and concentrations in American studies, English, history, fine arts, and liberal arts. The humanities encourage students to think critically, analyze information, communicate ideas, and work cooperatively toward common-good solutions, said Dr. Emily Hinnov, professor of English and program director at Great Bay.
“An English major does not have to lead into being a high school English teacher or a college professor or any of the other narrow ideas about where a degree like that can lead,” she said. “We are trying to get our students to think about broadening their perspective about how these broad-based skills of writing, critical thinking, communication, and creative thinking can apply to many different fields.”
Courses in the humanities and social sciences attract students across the curriculum, regardless of their major.
“Most of the students at Great Bay take history or sociology or political science, and that means our departments are having an influence on a lot of students across the college,” said Dr. Jordan Fansler, professor of Social Science and program coordinator of the College’s history program.
“We can talk to and work with students far beyond our group of history majors or social scientists. For someone going into the tech field, these are the last social sciences courses they will be taking – and for some it will be their first as well. So it’s a really important role that we play to give them some kind of context they might need, some of the perspectives they might not get from some of their other classes.”
For students who major in the humanities and social sciences, an associate degree is a springboard, not a destination, where Great Bay represents the beginning of an educational journey. All the humanities coursework at Great Bay emphasizes transfer pathways to four-year colleges and universities, and Dr. Huard noted that Great Bay recently introduced a new transfer agreement with the University of New Hampshire College of Health and Human Services.
“Most of our history majors come to us with the intention of transferring to a four-year institution, and we are set up to do that,” said Dr. Fansler.
That is true in English, as well. “When I started at Great Bay almost 10 years ago, we did not have an English major,” Dr. Hinnov said. “And now the courses we are teaching here in English are equivalent to those offered at UNH.”
Increasingly, Great Bay provides its humanities majors with research opportunities that help prepare and qualify them for their educational and career aspirations. This past summer, four Great Bay students and two faculty members participated in Andrew J. Mellon Foundation-funded New Hampshire Humanities Collaborative research projects.
Melissa Shortt, an English major and student of Dr. Hinnov, received a fellowship to pursue her research about gender inequity in literature. Charlotte King, a recent summa cum laude liberal arts graduate, worked with University of New Hampshire professor Paul Robertson on project about gender and sexuality over time. History students Lexie Mcnew and Kristina Dube worked with Dr. Hansler on a long-term project involving the idea of commemoration and the meaning of landmarks, monuments, and commemorative events.
In the spring semester, Kriete, the psychology major who will graduate in December, worked with Dr. Huard on a New Hampshire Humanities Collaborative grant to explore her interest in personal identity in a research project based on the theme “Live Free … With/From Labels.”
She presented her research during an April symposium hosted by UNH and is among several Great Bay students present and past who have presented their work at university-level gatherings of scholars. Former Great Bay students Marianne J. Collins and Ryan Shaheen presented Mellon Foundation-funded research around the theme “But What’s a Truth?” at a humanities conference in 2022. Their survey-based research explored the concept of truth and how the interpretation of the truth varies by people and societal factions.
Their research was well received at the conference, and they were encouraged to refine their work and prepare a paper for publication. “We’re fine-tuning it now and finishing the editing, and we will put it out for publication soon,” said Collins, who graduated from Great Bay in August 2022 with an associate degree in psychology and is working toward her bachelor’s through Southern New Hampshire University.
Based on Dr. Huard’s advice and encouragement and her success at Great Bay, her goal is to go for her Ph.D. and become a research psychologist.
Shaheen, who intends to work as a nurse practitioner, also graduated from Great Bay with a psychology degree in 2022. He is slated to graduate from UNH with a bachelor’s in psychology this spring, and then pursue a master’s degree.
His humanities research at Great Bay set the path for his academic success, he said.
“It was a privilege,” Shaheen said. “For people to invest in my ability to do meaningful research was a huge compliment. The fact that people respected Marianne and I enough to have our backs and support us throughout this project is a great honor as a student. It was a milestone as a student, actually. It made a great impact on my attitude as far as where I am and where I want to go in my journey as an academic.”