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2006 Graduate, Odyssey Project in Madison, WI

Around the state of Wisconsin, people travel to hear Corey Saffold speak.

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American Family Insurance funds a counselor to work with Odyssey Project students

With a free humanities class, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Odyssey Project helps low-income adults overcome obstacles to higher education.

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Dr. John Macready LIVE on The Jeff Crilley Show

Watch the recording of the October 4th live interview with Dr. John Macready on The Jeff Crilley Show where he discusses Free Minds Dallas.

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2016 Clemente Course Graduate from Kingston, NY

One thing that’s clear about Jewel Walcott is that she never stops learning. A graduate of the course in Kingston, NY—where she was selected commencement speaker the following year—Jewel carries a notebook with her wherever she goes. “I use it to write down random thoughts,” she says, “or I watch a movie and find myself unintentionally writing an essay about it. My Clemente writing instructor gave me permission to express myself on paper.”

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Professor in Bridge, Antioch University Los Angeles

Anyone who wonders how the experience of studying the humanities translates to the real world should talk to Rosa Garza-Mourino.

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Congratulations to Halifax Humanities

Kings College student and filmmaker, Rachel O’Brien, interviewed and filmed Halifax Humanities students and teachers for this short film.

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Graduates: Humanities courses equip students with skills for any profession

by Katie Kowalski as published at

Studying the humanities instilled in Justin Lake a deep sense of self and place in the world. He came to see himself as someone who could take part in society, make changes and have a voice.

“I felt like a more responsible citizen,” he said.

Lake is a 36-year-old single father and a graduate of the Jefferson Clemente Course, a branch of the Clemente Course in the Humanities that offers college courses to low-income individuals. He’s a naturalist who teaches all over Jefferson County, and he’s now working on getting a teacher’s certificate.

Erik Montoya, age 37, also is a single father who benefited from the free classes in the humanities.

“I know it sounds corny, but it really was a life-changing experience for me,” said Montoya, who is working to get a bachelor’s degree so he can teach history.

Their stories are not uncommon for Clemente students, said Lela Hilton, a national director who founded the Jefferson County branch of Clemente.

“They get that fire from education, and figure out what to do,” she said. “I think that all of our students see that liberal arts and the humanities are incredibly practical.”

Clemente offers its courses free of charge to qualifying individuals, and this Friday, June 23, is hosting NPR’s “Says You!” team to help benefit the program.

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Founder, Venture Course in the Humanities in Utah

Twelve years after founding Venture, a Clemente-inspired course in Utah, Dr. Jean Cheney is more convinced than ever of the value of humanities education.

“It opens people up to new ways of thinking about themselves and their world. And it empowers them to make changes they want to make going forward,” she says. “I am a believer because of what I have witnessed.”

When she joined Utah Humanities in 1997 after a career as a freelance writer and English teacher in high schools and colleges, creating a college humanities class for low-income adults was not on her mind. But after hearing Clemente founder Earl Shorris speak a year later, the wheels got turning. In fact, Jean says she had “a sort of epiphany.”

“Imagining the people in Earl’s Clemente classroom opened my eyes to a reality that should have been obvious: all people deserve a good humanities education, are richer for it. And some people may even be saved by it,” she says. “I don’t apologize for that language. Since being directly involved in this education since 2005, I have seen many, many people turn their lives completely around because of this one course.”

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2014 Graduate of Free Minds in Austin, Texas


On the last night of class this year in Free Minds, Irene Salas addressed the students she had mentored since August. “Thank you for your courage,” she told them. “Thank you for your persistence. And most of all, thank you for bringing your voices – your individual voices – to the room. I love to hear all of y’all because it makes the world a lot bigger.”

It was the desire to make her own world bigger that led Irene to Free Minds in the summer of 2013. She was just turning 40 with a husband, two children, and an extended family she helped care for. She had hungered to go to college, but had never even taken a class. In fact, no one in her family ever had. Then her husband Benny received an email about Free Minds at his job in maintenance at the City of Austin. He shared it with Irene.

“I told him it was too good to be true. Who’s going to pay your tuition, pay your books, watch your kids, and feed you? C’mon.”

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A Community Health Center may seem like an unlikely place to learn about the arts and humanities, but really, when you think about it, the notion is not so implausible. At Codman Square Health Center, located in the working class neighborhood of Dorchester in Boston, the focus is always on the whole health of a patient.

To that end, if a health center patient requires a prescription for intellectual sustenance, Codman Square helps fill that need with a twice weekly course on humanities and art. The course, called the Clemente Course, is one of 31 given around the country (and one of five in Massachusetts). It offers a cultural dive into the great books and ideas of world history — Socrates, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Plato, Homer and writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Students are also exposed to a wide-ranging swath of art history, from Mesopotamia to Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. There are classes in moral philosophy, literature, American history, art history and writing. The students meet for two semesters. To be eligible for admission a student cannot have graduated from college and must live in a household getting by on less than what is considered a living wage in Boston (about $13.42 an hour for one person). The classes are free. Once the course is complete each student receives six credits from Bard College in New York State that can be transferred to another learning institution.

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Giant kinetic pinwheels in Whirligig Park, NC

Photograph by Bruce DeBoer for Washington Post

By David Montgomery

The wind is up in Wilson, N.C. Giant pinwheels and propellers start spinning atop tall and spindly kinetic sculptures called whirligigs, which have been erected on a village green being developed into Whirligig Park. The rotating wheels drive chains, belts and shafts that, in turn, set in motion whimsical characters and shapes. Little bicycle riders and unicyclists pedal and wave, helicopters hover, birds flap their wings, fighter planes change course.

The fantastic contraptions have been fashioned from the discard pile of American civilization. A freshly painted blue fan, 19 feet in diameter, spins majestically thanks to the graceful repurposing of the rear axle of a truck, while another big pinwheel is adorned with 96 shiny metal milkshake cups. Vollis Simpson, the junkyard artist who built these figures, worked from a palette that also included ...

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The nationally acclaimed NPR word game show, “Says You!” will present a community show benefiting the Jefferson Clemente Course, a free college humanities course for low-income adults in Port Townsend, WA.

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Congratulations to Jean Cheney and her colleagues from the Venture Course in Utah.

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Harlem Clemente Professor of Literature G.D. Peters, just named as Lehman College's Adjunct Professor of the Year.

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As the academic year opens at colleges across the country, one important group of students will be underrepresented in classrooms: returning adults. The missing students may have both the abilities and the motivation to pursue degrees. But many are shut out of higher education because of debt owed to schools they attended years, even decades, earlier.

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December 2, 2016.  Marina van Zuylen was on a panel representing Clemente, “Great Books” and Civic Education, at a conference to celebrate the centennial of John Dewey’s classic Democracy and Education (1916) at Columbia’s Center for American Studies. 

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The Foundation recently had the opportunity to connect two of the grantees in our Liberal Arts Beyond the Academy special initiative, to talk about their experiences of bringing the humanities well beyond traditional classroom settings. Lela Hilton, Program Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, Inc., and Ann Kowal Smith, Founder & Executive Director of Books@Work, agreed to let us eavesdrop on their conversation. The Clemente Course in the Humanities brings free humanities education to people living in economic distress.

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Back in 2008 Adaline Russell joined a handful of other students at the first Clemente course offered at VIU. The grandmother of six vividly recalls the first days she became a VIU student. She says during that time in her life she was severely depressed. Despite this, when she heard about the Clemente course she found the strength to put her name in.

“At the time my mental health support worker drove me to and from the classroom because I couldn’t get there on my own,” said Russell. “After three weeks we were on our way home and she looked at me and said: ‘My goodness, you have a smile on your face!’ I thought about it and said: ‘Yes, I am really enjoying what I’m learning.’ I was finally being stimulated intellectually and I realized that was what was missing from my life.”

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As the academic year opens at colleges across the country, one important group of students will be underrepresented in classrooms: returning adults. The missing students may have both the abilities and the motivation to pursue degrees. But many are shut out of higher education because of debt owed to schools they attended years, even decades, earlier.
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