Second Class of "Free Minds" Graduates This May; Program Offers Humanities Course to Low-Income Adults

The second class of the Humanities Institute's Free Minds Project will graduate this May. The only program of its kind in the state of Texas, the Free Minds Project offers a college-level course in the humanities to adults living on low to moderate incomes.

The commencement ceremony is at 7 p.m. Monday, May 19, in the Prothro Theater at the Harry Ransom Center. A map is available online. Students and faculty from the program will speak at graduation, and music will be provided by acclaimed cellist Leanne Zacharias.

The Free Minds Project began in 2006 when 25 students gathered for a two-semester college-level humanities course taught by top professors from The University of Texas at Austin and Austin Community College. Participants, all of whom face financial and educational barriers, pay no tuition.

The Humanities Institute provides course books and bus fare, and dinner is served each night before class begins at one of Foundation Communities' learning centers. On-site childcare is provided through a partnership with Camp Fire USA.

"Because of its focus on the humanities, the Free Minds Project isn't a typical college transition program," Vivé Griffith, project director, said. "The program gives students the chance to reflect on life and see the world from a new perspective. Students are motivated to go back to school, but they also gain the confidence to pursue promotions at their jobs and to become more involved in their children's education."

The 2007-08 participants, who range in age from 24 to 56, study philosophy, literature, U.S. history, theater and writing. Those who complete the course earn six college credits in the humanities.

"Whether wrestling with Plato's 'Republic' or teasing out meanings in Wallace Stevens' poems, students explore new ways of thinking about themselves and their world," said Evan Carton, director of the Humanities Institute and an English professor who teaches in the program. "They recognize their own intellectual capabilities and gain the confidence to start planning their pathway to higher education."

The program also provides college and career counseling, with workshops covering topics such as financial aid. For student Marissa Machada, 48, the program has been an inspiration.

"The Free Minds program has empowered me to walk in to a college and apply for further education," Machado said. "It has given me the nerve to speak up and out loud, to voice my ideas, no matter how insignificant they may seem. I have gained an incredible amount of courage."

Applications for the 2008-09 class will be available in June. Participants must be at least 18, have a demonstrated financial need and have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma. For more information, call 512-232-6093 or visit the Humanities Institute Web site.