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O'Brien receives one of only three NEH grants in Alabama

Dr. Traci O'Brien

Traci O'Brien, Chair and Undergraduate Director for German in the Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts, has received one of only three National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grants awarded in the state of Alabama.

With the Implementation Grant, NEH awarded O'Brien over $99,000 for her project, “Building Lasting Bridges: German and Engineering at Auburn University.” The award will support the development of five courses, four of which will enhance AU’s recently approved dual degree program in German and engineering; the fifth will introduce intercultural learning into a pre-engineering course. It was the collaboration on this innovative dual degree program, which includes a semester of study abroad followed by a semester of internship in Germany, that inspired O’Brien and her project’s co-directors to apply for the grant. Anecdotal evidence had shown that AU’s engineering students are attracted to German study because of the opportunity to develop other skills than those available in their math and science courses. The grant will support curriculum changes that will strengthen and enhance the interdisciplinary nature of the dual degree program, fully integrating a STEM with a humanities curriculum. Technical prowess as well as high-level skills in German are particularly beneficial in the state of Alabama, which is home to many German companies. The dual degree program creates the opportunity for two traditionally very disparate departments in two different colleges to work together creatively for the benefit of their students.

“Interdisciplinary collaborations are crucial to solving many of today’s complex problems. I am pleased to see Dr. O’Brien’s efforts being recognized with this prestigious grant from NEH,” said Joseph Aistrup, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

In response to the news that the grant had been awarded, O’Brien stated: “We are excited about this project and are very grateful to the NEH for supporting it. Our goal in creating these strategic courses is to provide students with insight into another language and culture not only as a path to a brighter career but also as a path to life-long learning. The world is changing ever more rapidly, and students need to learn how to communicate effectively across all kinds of differences in order to participate in our increasingly interconnected global society.”

O’Brien’s co-directors are Dean Hendrix, associate chair in Computer Science and Software Engineering, and Bob Karcher, Engineering Global Programs.

Dean Hendrix Bob Karcher
Dean Hendrix, pictured left, and Bob Karcher, both from the Ginn College of Engineering. 

The NEH announced $24 million in grants for 225 humanities projects across the country. These grants will support a diverse range of exemplary humanities projects.

“NEH is proud to support these 225 new projects, which embody excellence, intellectual rigor, and a dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, even as our nation and the humanities community continue to face the challenges of the pandemic,” said NEH Acting Chairman Adam Wolfson. “We look forward to the contributions these projects will make to our understanding of ourselves and our society through exemplary humanities research, publications, documentary films, exhibitions, and undergraduate programs.”

National Endowment for the Humanities: Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

Tags: Faculty Research World Languages Literatures and Cultures

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