Toolkit Resources: Campus Models & Case Studies

Humanities, Leadership, and Community at Cuyahoga Community College

Adolphe Musanga hated Cleveland when he first arrived.

Cleveland was cold. Musanga had immigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (sunny and warm) to San Diego (sunny and warm) in 2015, but he struggled to learn English and left community college when he couldn’t afford tuition. He moved to Cleveland to live with his aunt, far away from his parents and friends in California.

“Moving to Cleveland, at first it seemed like the most horrible experience ever,” Musanga said. But after his aunt recommended that he enroll in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), he flourished.

He wanted to pursue an associate’s degree but wasn’t sure he could afford it. Someone recommended he apply to Tri-C’s Mandel Scholars Academy, a cohort-based honors academy that blends humanities coursework, leadership training, engagement with the Cleveland community, in-depth mentoring, transfer assistance, and full tuition coverage (as well as money for books and fees).

Musanga graduated this spring with an associate’s degree and a 3.95 GPA. He speaks fluent English, wrote a book about his experience coming to America (From Congo to Cleveland), is preparing to start his own business, and is transferring to Cleveland State University this fall with a full scholarship.

“There’s some great people who have all those qualities—they’re smart—but the environment gets them stuck in a place that they can’t get out from,” Musanga said. “I feel like if it wasn’t for the help that I got from Tri-C, I would have never made it.”

The Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Humanities Center

In 2015, Tri-C used the largest gift in the college’s history—$10 million from the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation, which has supported humanities and education programs at Cleveland State University, Case Western University, and across Northeastern Ohio—to establish the Mandel Humanities Center.

More than 80 percent of Tri-C students stay in Northeastern Ohio after graduation, and the center aims to create future leaders with close connections to the Cleveland community.

“You can think of the Mandel Humanities Center as having two faces,” said Matthew Jordan, dean and chair for humanities at the center. One face looks inward, serving students through the Mandel Scholars Academy, Jordan explained. The other looks out as a resource for the college and community.

The center regularly hosts events for the wider campus and city community. Through a partnership with Case Western Reserve University’s Cleveland Humanities Festival, the center recently hosted a public conversation between a pair of philosophers—a theist from the University of Notre Dame and an atheist from the University of Massachusetts Amherst—about whether the natural world is all that exists.

“We want the Humanities Center to become a place where we can have dialogue and discussion but also become a place to bring the community to mix with our college community and offer resources to the people who live among us,” said Mary Hovanec, associate professor of history and faculty chair of the scholars program.

To make connections beyond the center, Hovanec travels to several of Tri-C’s four campuses each week to speak with students, faculty, and staff. The center recently launched the Mandel Faculty Fellows program, which provides faculty in any discipline with a stipend of $1,000; research support up to $1,500; and three hours of service release time. The fellows explore new research topics, connect their projects with humanities values or methods, and engage students in research, collaborative projects, career readiness efforts, or community outreach.

Humanities and Community Engagement at Tri-C

Students can apply to the Mandel Scholars Academy from any of Tri-C’s four campuses. To be admitted, Tri-C students must (1) have completed no more than twenty college credits, (2) have a 3.0 GPA, (3) be able to succeed in college-level math and English courses, (4) write an essay about leadership, and (5) complete an interview to discuss future goals, ideas about leadership, and understanding of community. The program is small but growing, with 124 students as of the spring 2019 semester.

“As a community college, our whole purpose is to be accessible to all,” Hovanec said. “Students in the program come from all walks of life. We had a student who has been homeless living in a homeless shelter. We’ve had international students. We have refugees. We have students who have received asylum. The Mandel Scholars Academy reflects the diversity and richness of the Cleveland community.”

When students enter the program, they are paired with a faculty member, staff member, or administrator who acts as a mentor throughout the students’ four semesters, helping to ensure student perseverance, retention, and completion.

The academy operates on a cohort model, as students entering the program progress through three core courses based on three foundational principles—humanities, leadership, and community.

  1. The Individual in Society is a reading- and writing-intensive humanities course that exposes students to arts, literature, and humanities disciplines and prepares them to transfer to four-year institutions.
  2. The History of Cleveland is an urban studies course in which students tour local neighborhoods and work on a team project related to the city’s neighborhoods, arts, sports, politics, government, or economy.
  3. Community Engagement is an experiential learning and humanities course in which eight to ten students work collaboratively with a faculty member and community partner on a project defined by the community partner.

The community engagement course “gets students to think through academic issues or theoretical topics in ways that are fundamentally practical, and to see in a very intimate way . . . the kind of impact that those things have on real human beings here in Cleveland,” Jordan said.

In the most recent partnership, the Mandel Center partnered with MetroHealth as part of the hospital system’s year-long series of events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The three sections of the course studied topics related to King’s legacy: black and Jewish relations, violence prevention and mediation, and food access and insecurity in urban environments.

The center also offers travel opportunities, covering costs for students. To connect with the work related to King’s legacy, twenty-two students took a civil rights tour of Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, Alabama. They visited museums, toured historically significant sites, and heard lectures from experts on the history of race relations in the United States. “That was a really powerful trip,” Jordan said. “Many of the students who went described it as the highlight of their time at Tri-C and as a genuinely life-changing experience.”

Musanga’s community engagement class focused on food insecurity. It was January 2019, during the partial federal government shutdown.

“I told my friend, ‘If we can have an event where we hand out food to the community of Cleveland, that would be great,’ because I know in my house, the government shutdown affected our food assistance and our food stamps,” Musanga said.

The class recruited volunteers, donors, and community partners to distribute food at community centers across Cleveland. They made calls, coordinated timelines, and planned events.

“Being entrepreneurial, we like doing more things than getting theory, and that class was hands-on and doing things,” Musanga said.

As he worked hands-on with the people of Cleveland, Musanga was surprised by the love they showed for the city and each other.

“There were so many partners ready to donate money, to offer any kind of help,” he said. “That ended up being a very, very great experience.”

Bridging Campus and Community through Cocurricular Activities

Mandel Scholars attend three Achieving Leadership through Active Preparation events each semester. Students participate in workshops, attend cultural events and public lectures, or participate in the My Path to Leadership program, in which notable local or national leaders meet with students to discuss their work and leadership experience. Recent visitors included Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a Democratic candidate for president; Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz; Louise Antony, former president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology; and Ulyana Horodyskyj, an explorer and scientist who founded Science in the Wild.

“At all those events, you get to network with the people. As an entrepreneur, networking is the key,” Musanga said.

Other activities through the center introduce students to aspects of geography or culture that they have never seen. This summer, Hovanec brought a group of twenty students to Washington, DC. And in Cleveland, a group of students went to a play at Playhouse Square followed by dinner at a restaurant.

Introducing students to a diverse set of cultural experiences is key, Hovanec believes, to promoting a lifelong dedication to Cleveland and making them much more likely to support the city’s arts and culture in the future.

“They all dressed up, and they had never been to a theater event,” Hovanec said. “These are things we take for granted very often, but these students don’t necessarily have that opportunity or exposure.”

Partnerships for Four-Year Transfer

The Mandel Foundation is also a generous benefactor of the Cleveland State University (CSU) Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Honors College. Each year, twenty-five first-year students from Tri-C’s Mandel Scholars Academy can matriculate into CSU’s Mandel Honors College on a full-tuition scholarship. While at Tri-C, students receive advising through CSU and have opportunities to engage with students from CSU.

After both their first and second years, students in the transfer program participate in a four-week summer research seminar, which prepares them with research, reading, writing, and analytical skills needed in their junior and senior years. Students receive a $2,500 stipend to offset their limited ability to earn money over the summer, and they get a laptop computer in their fourth semester at Tri-C.

“It really means the world to me,” said Musanga, who is attending CSU in the fall with a full scholarship. “If it wasn’t for that, there’s no question: I wouldn’t be going to school. But thanks to the Mandel Scholars, I’ll be able to attend the university.”

The Cleveland Humanities Collaborative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, offers another opportunity for both Mandel Scholars and the wider Tri-C community. Tri-C students who are planning to major in a humanities discipline can take courses at nearby Case Western University and continue to pay Tri-C tuition.

“Many of our students rarely consider the more elite four-year institutions in their transfer plans,” Hovanec said. “So to have some of our graduates go on to Case Western Reserve University and really flourish there highlights their abilities and is really exciting for us.”

For Musanga, his experience at Tri-C has reshaped his outlook on Cleveland and on his future. He had expected to graduate with his associate’s degree and move back to sunny San Diego, but now he plans on staying in Cleveland.

I saw what Cleveland has to offer. I learned about how people in Cleveland built themselves up from nothing, and it also showed us how much the people cared about the city,” he said. “I’m ready to launch my business pretty soon and start my experience at CSU and do some incredible things in the future. I think I’m going to come back here to Tri-C and say that this place was where really my future began.”