Key of Excellence Award

By Victoria Dolloff

This December, with its launch of the National Arts and Sciences Initiative, an advocacy program supporting the liberal arts and sciences, the Phi Beta Kappa Society recognized programs and individuals championing their current mission.  One of the awards announced was the Key of Excellence Award, an honor recognizing programs across the United States that address the arts and sciences from new and innovative angles. 

The first ever recipient of the Key of Excellence Award will be Arizona State University’s Project Humanities lead by program director and Professor of English Neal A. Lester. Project Humanities is designed to support the humanities by creating an environment for discovery and reflection. The project aims to reach out not only to students, but also to faculty, staff, and the local community. The program does this by offering engaging programs like lectures, visiting artists, performances, and various other productions. By linking cross-disciplinary outlets, Arizona State hopes to revitalize the meaning and importance of the humanities. 

The core of the Project Humanities’ mission is based on three initiatives: talking, listening, and connecting. As described on the program’s website talking consists of “speaking, singing, painting, strumming, asking, writing, and expressing,” listening consists of “seeing, thinking, reading, hearing, imagining, and creating,” and connecting is “making meaning, making sense, understanding, creating dialogue, changing perspective, and offering perspective.” In linking these three elements, students and members of the community are able to connect self-expression with outward communication. Arizona State University’s support for the project stresses the importance of a broad-based education and, therefore, continued support for the liberal arts and sciences. 

For the fall 2013 semester, Project Humanities had the theme “Humor…Seriously.” Events throughout the fall used humor as their focus including an “LOL! Humor Writing Workshop” and “Science of Humor” lecture featuring Bill Nye the Science Guy. The act of holding a semester theme exemplifies the connectedness of the humanities by illustrating how seemingly unrelated disciplines like writing and science can be linked by a faceted commonality (in this case humor).

Phi Beta Kappa President Katherine Soule described Project Humanities as an exciting initiative that deserved the spotlight. She underscored the value of such programs for preserving liberal arts higher education saying, “Access to a broad-based education is a critical investment in our country. The arts and sciences drive important economic and societal innovations, as well as prepare individuals to be more resourceful employees and more engaged members of a democratic society.”

Essentially, programs like Arizona State’s Project Humanities are a beacon in a time when the liberal arts and sciences are being undermined by the appeal of an immediately practical, vocation-specific education. The support for programs like this one across the nation encourages college students and administration to reassess the value of the humanities and the commitment to educate for a lifetime. 

For more information about Arizona State University’s Project Humanities and the opportunities it provides, visit their website at: 

The award will be formally presented in Arizona on February 15.

Victoria Dolloff is a senior at Fairfield University majoring in studio art. Fairfield University is home to the Zeta of Connecticut chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.