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VALPARAISO — The National Endowment for the Humanities’ Enduring Questions grant program allows teachers to develop a new course that fosters intellectual community through the study of an enduring question.

For Valparaiso University’s Allison Schuette, an associate professor of English, that question will ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

Schuette received $20,000 from the NEH to develop and teach the question-driven course. It will grow out of the work she’s done with fellow VU professor Liz Wuerfell on the Welcome Project, which was designed to spur discussion about issues of diversity on and off the campus, and their most recent interactive initiative, Flight Paths, to do the same thing cross-county in the Region.

“I think the course, developing it and working with students on some of the more humanities-based questions, will really help us when we’re in the actual story collection itself,” Schuette said.

Schuette said the course initially will have students start to think about where they came from. In her case, Schuette didn’t necessarily think of the neighborhood where she grew up as a neighborhood until she left and was able to reflect on it.

“It will be helpful for them to connect back to where they came from and think about their relationship to that place,” she said. “I think it will also help them here on campus because a lot of our students come from pretty homogeneous communities. Or even if it’s a diverse neighborhood, say in Chicago, they feel like they’re coming to a very different place here. I think reflecting on neighbors, even if we don’t typically think of the kid down the hall in the dorm as a neighbor, they’re experiencing a lot of difference, so I think this will give them a framework for understanding that.”

Schuette also doesn’t know if college students really think about or engage the place that they’re actually in.

“I really want this course to have students appreciating Northwest Indiana and developing a stronger relationship with it,” she said.

The grant requires the class to be reading-intensive, but Schuette wants to use the last couple of weeks of the course to really reflect on Northwest Indiana.

“I want to use the Welcome Project Flight Paths initiative as another kind of text for the students,” she said.

Students will get to choose a project of their own design toward the end of the class, and because it will be students from all sorts of different majors, Schuette assumes some of them might be interested in participating in the Welcome Project.

Last summer, while preparing to write the grant for the course, Schuette held a “Who’s My Neighbor?” seminar. One of the participating students, Nura Zaki, who is interested in enrolling in the course, said the opportunity to have these discussions as part of a curriculum is vital to promoting a healthy community because “it invites us to pay attention to how we treat those around us.”

“I would love to take advantage of this opportunity to be reminded that my life is inherently linked to others,” she said. “It is to all of our benefit that we navigate these interactions and relationships with the care we all deserve.”

Schuette plans to teach the course twice, during the spring of 2017 and 2018.

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.