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Fledgling Program Fully Endowed

Apr. 8, 2008 – “In science, the crucial balance is between seeing things whole and seeing them in part,” wrote Nobel Laureate John Polyani. “These linkages are the stuff of science. But in the process of delving for hidden patterns, the larger pattern called a forest can be lost to view. Then the strength of science, which lies in its sharp but narrow focus, becomes its weakness.”

Helping students connect the forest to its trees, and to the world around it, is at the heart of the University of Utah’s environmental humanities program. Started in 2005 with a $500,000 seed grant from the Kendeda Foundation, the program provides an interdisciplinary approach to exploring broad issues of environment as they are impacted by history, culture, religion and ethic of place. This program, the first of its kind in the country, is attracting students from the sciences, literature, business and political science.

Now in only its third year, the program can be assured of a future. The College of Humanities announces a generous gift of $2,700,000 from the Kendeda Foundation, intended to launch the environmental humanities graduate program endowment.

In addition, since this gift was granted just two months ago, the college has already successfully added the equivalent of $1,200,000 to the endowment value, bringing the total of gifts and pledges to $3,900,000. Over the course of the next year, the college hopes to raise the additional $1,750,000 needed to fully fund the endowment and cover all programmatic costs.

The endowment, when completely funded, will support 12 competitive graduate fellowships, a two-year professorship in environmental humanities, the program director, international internships for students and the ecology of residency course: a weeklong course taught each summer by noted author and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams.

Additionally, the program has engaged visiting scholars with international reputations such as arctic photographer Subhankar Banerjee, National Geographic explorer in residence and ethnobotonist Wade Davis, and authors Jack Turner and Terry Tempest Williams. Each of these scholars is in residence each year to teach, mentor and provide public programming in the SLC community.

“The Kendeda Foundation’s gift to this program is a significant and symbolic endorsement,” states Robert Newman, dean of the College of Humanities and associate vice president for interdisciplinary studies. “It speaks to the power and success of the program’s vision.” Newman adds how unusual it is for such a young program to be fully endowed, which he believes speaks to the timeliness of the issues addressed and the quality of the programmatic elements put in place. “We’re so honored that the Kendeda Foundation has recognized the value of such a program in creating environmentally literate leaders in business, politics and the social sciences.”

In an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education written to announce the program’s launch, reporter Malcolm Scully noted that the tricky task will be for the environmental humanities program to strike a balance between seeing things whole and seeing the particulars, and between conflicted citizens and conflicting demands.

Since this inaugural article was published three years ago, the program has proven the strength of the original vision and as a result is grown considerably. The first class of students graduated last spring.

For more information about the Environmental Humanities program or about the Kendeda Foundation endowment gift, contact Heidi Camp at 801-581-6214 or