Aerial photo of campus taken at dusk
Photo by Weiming Yuan

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation Awards $2 million for ‘Experimental Humanities’ initiative at Case Western Reserve University

Funds to support new education and research programs that integrate humanities more deeply with science and engineering studies

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) today announced a $2 million commitment from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation to support a new initiative at CWRU that will integrate education in the humanities more deeply with the sciences and engineering.

“The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation is a champion for the humanities, and its importance to the human experience,” said Dr. Jehuda Reinharz, Mandel Foundation’s president and chief executive officer. “In an era of rapidly accelerating technological change, this program will give students the opportunity to engage crucial questions that such advances raise in our society.”

Developed under the leadership of College of Arts and Sciences Dean Joy K. Ward, Experimental Humanities aims to address a growing global need—as well as addressing undergraduates’ increasing interest in truly integrating their study of humanities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Over the past five years, the number of students double-majoring across the two areas climbed by 20%, and CWRU faculty are already collaborating across boundaries in their scholarship and research.

“One of the most impressive qualities of Case Western Reserve students is that their interest in acquiring knowledge is matched only by their commitment to understanding the implications of how it may be used in the future,” Ward said. “By further developing skills in critical thinking, deliberate reflection, and ethical practices, our graduates will be uniquely prepared to contribute meaningfully to our rapidly changing world. I am also confident that our graduates from this program will be highly sought after since they will have the critical thinking and communications skills that are inherent to the humanities as well as the ability to engage effectively with those in technology.” 

The university will apply the Mandel Foundation’s funds to two priorities: establishing a new major in Experimental Humanities, and providing funding support for humanities research projects, particularly those that drive innovative ideas through scientific collaborations. 

The latter broadens the reach of the Expanding Horizons Initiative, a program launched in 2021 that enables faculty to conduct the preliminary research necessary to have sufficient results to apply successfully for external grants, while also mentoring students participating in those efforts.

“We deeply appreciate the Mandel Foundation’s early support for this initiative,” Case Western Reserve President Eric W. Kaler said. “It will allow us to demonstrate the immense benefits that truly integrated learning can have not only for students, but also the professions and organizations they go on to serve.”

The Mandel Foundation’s award comes at an especially propitious time. Last month, ChatGPT—an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot released late last year—reached 100 million users, making it the fastest-growing app in history. A day after its launch, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit—a 1998 Case Western Reserve graduate—predicted that this form of AI could put Google “a year or two away from total disruption.”

Yet even as legions raved about its ability to write everything from poetry to essays and its aptitude for passing business and law school exams, others sounded warnings. Not only can ChatGPT convincingly present inaccurate answers, but it is already being used extensively by hackers to develop malware and perpetuate fraud within online marketplaces.

Earlier this month Microsoft President Brad Smith, whose company invested $1 billion in the company behind ChatGPT in 2019, wrote about the opportunities and challenges that this moment represents: 

“… the future of artificial intelligence requires a multidisciplinary approach… More than ever, technology needs people schooled in the humanities, social sciences and with more than an average dose of common sense.” 

Including this grant, the Mandel brothers and Foundation have provided more than $61.5 million in philanthropic support to Case Western Reserve University.