A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will help the University of Wisconsin-Superior explore developing a new major that would take an interdisciplinary approach to critical thinking and advocacy.

UWS's proposal was one of 19 grants awarded and will provide UWS with nearly $45,000 to research the marketability and develop a curriculum for a new major in civic engagement.

"We were lucky," said Khalil "Haji" Dokhanchi, a political science professor who participated in the group that developed the grant application last summer. He said while faculty and administration were discussing the idea of an interdisciplinary program that tapped existing resources on campus and promoted advocacy, the National Endowment for the Humanities was looking for a way to combine the humanities with social sciences.

Others who helped develop the application include Jayson Iwen, writing and library science associate professor; Lynn Goerdt, social work associate professor; Jayant Anand, interim dean of academic affairs; Sarah LaChance Adams, philosophy associate professor; Sakib Mahmud, economics associate professor; Jenice Meyer, community engagement director; and Laurel Eaton, grants and research specialist.

"This is a grant to research and design an academic program in civic engagement," Iwen said. "This would help people identify community challenges that are not being addressed or needs that are not being met by government or other entities, and then identify and implement ways to help solve those problems."

It could tap multiple disciplines - sociology, political science, social work, social policy, economics, philosophy, history, writing and literature, ethics, communications and entrepreneurship among them, according to those involved.

The difficult part will be narrowing down the curriculum to those courses to create the likely 36-credit major that would best benefit students and would be marketable with potential employers, Iwen said.

"The students would develop skills for looking at a problem from multiple perspectives, an economic perspective, a historical perspective, social, political perspective," Goerdt said.

Dokhanchi said a variety of skills are needed to affect change including writing, oratory and analytical skills, knowledge of the political process and who to contact, cost analysis - what it would cost and where the money would come from - and how to frame the issue.

The market study to determine if there is an interest among students and a need among employers for such skills will get underway this summer.

"We really want to make sure that anytime we're creating new majors or new programs that they are truly meeting the needs within the region," Meyer said. "So a part in doing that is to make sure that we include community leaders as well as elected officials into that process."

Plans include hosting focus groups with people in the nonprofit, government and business sectors, she said.

Iwen said there will be four stages in developing the program - evaluating existing resources on campus, determining the marketability of the program with students and potential employers, designing the curriculum, and if feasible, submitting it to UW System for consideration to develop the program.

"We're hoping to meet with people in the community and others whom UW-Superior serves to find out what the best manifestation of this degree would be," Iwen said. He said plans include developing a social media presence so people in the community can follow their progress.

"The goal isn't that the major becomes part of UWS yet, but it's to do all of the planning to see if this new major is marketable and viable," Goerdt said. "And if so, we would submit the materials to UW System to go through the approval process."