AUSTIN, Texas—The inaugural class of the Humanities Institute’s Free Minds Project, which fills a gap in the education market by extending a liberal arts education to adults living on low to moderate incomes, will graduate this May.
The commencement ceremony is at 7 p.m. Monday, May 21 in the Prothro Theater at the Harry Ransom Center. A campus map is available online. Sharon Bridgforth, acclaimed local poet and playwright, will deliver the keynote address. Additional speakers include students and faculty from the project.
The Free Minds Project pilot program began last August when 25 adults 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 also provides on-site childcare, course books and bus fare, and dinner is served each night before class begins. For the past nine months, the class has met two evenings per week at one of Foundation Communities’ learning centers in northeast Austin.
"The Free Minds Project is more than your average college transition program," project director Sylvia Gale said. "Many adult education programs focus on skills training. We want to give adult learners the opportunity for the kind of formal study of the humanities that is often reserved for students at elite liberal arts universities. That kind of education is about reflecting on the world, rather than always reacting to it. We think it’s an education that has the power to transform lives."
The students study philosophy, literature, classics, U.S. history, theater and writing. Those who complete the course earn six college credits in the humanities.
"Whether wrestling with Plato’s ‘Republic,’ teasing out meanings in Wallace Stevens’ poems or reading briefs from the Brown vs. Board of Education case, 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 they gain the confidence to start planning their pathway to higher education."
The program also provides college and career counseling. Some students plan to go back to school. For Abbie Navarette, a mother of three, the class was an intellectual awakening.
"I exercised my brain in a way I’ve never experienced," Navarette said. "I’ve always dreamed of attending college but there was a fear that even if I could attend, I wouldn’t succeed. This class has opened my eyes to the fact that I can do this, that college is for me and for my kids."
Applications for the 2007-08 class will be available in June. Participants must be between the ages of 18 and 60, have a demonstrated financial need and have a high school diploma or GED. For more information, call 512-471-2654 or visit the Humanities Institute online.