October 25, 2011

Humanities Day 2011: Odyssey offers humanities education for all

Humanities and Philosophy Professor Bart Schultz helped lead a discussion about the Odyssey Project, an Illinois Humanities Council initiative within the University’s Civic Knowledge Project.

The presentation, “Ethics, Poverty, and the Humanities,” was co-led by Odyssey Project Director Amy Thomas Elder and Coordinator Erika Dudley. The organization currently runs several locations throughout Illinois, including two in Chicago and one in Champaign.

The Odyssey Project is a free, eight-month program that provides adults living in poverty with a “college-level introduction to the humanities through text-based seminars led by professors at top-tier universities,” according to the Odyssey Project Web site. The seminars are similar to the College’s Humanities core courses.

Elder and Dudley explained that one of the major roadblocks to running a program like the Odyssey Project is the unregulated state of for-profit trade schools and colleges.

One of the program’s three graduates to speak at the presentation said that the interior design college she attended had left her without credentials and a $40,000 debt that she still struggles to pay off. However, the student said that the Odyssey Program had helped her.

“The teachers and professors were very supportive,” she said. “It was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Towards the end of the presentation, an audience member asked Elder if the Odyssey Project had a mission statement. Before Elder could reach for a pamphlet about the Odyssey Project, a former student answered the question. “It taught me that there are other people who think the same things as me, and that being poor is not my fault.”