Habitat for the Humanities

Former Dean Jessie Ann Owens
Former Dean Jessie Ann Owens

As former dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies—or as she likes to put it, “dean of the fun stuff”—Jessie Ann Owens champions UC Davis’ “distinctive brand of public humanities that serve the land grant mission and address questions about the public good.”

Among her many accomplishments at the helm of a division she considers a major asset for UC Davis, Owens is most proud that UC Davis has become one of the institutions funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The 45-year-old foundation, the nation’s most generous supporter of the humanities and the arts in higher education, contributed $4.76 million to The Campaign for UC Davis, thanks in large part to Owens’ efforts.

The foundation awarded a New Directions Fellowship to Associate Professor of Design Christina Cogdell and has funded the seminar “Indigenous Cosmopolitcs” through the prestigious John E. Sawyer Seminar on Comparative Cultures. After the campaign’s conclusion, UC Davis was selected to participate in the Sawyer seminars again, and will present “Surveillance Democracies?” in 2015-16.

The Foundation has also funded Mellon Research Initiatives in the Humanities, a program that enables scholars at UC Davis to collaborate across disciplines on key issues that challenge society today. These three-year initiatives present colloquia, workshops and conferences on topics ranging from environmental humanities to digital cultures. The funding also helps the university recruit outstanding graduate students and visiting assistant professors, advancing UC Davis’ excellence in humanities research.

“The Mellon Foundation’s investment in UC Davis represents a vote of confidence in the kinds of collaborative and cross-disciplinary humanities research that we do here,” said Owens. “We are especially grateful for their support at a time when our humanities programs are developing critical collaborative projects.”

In addition to its significant support for the humanities, the Foundation also provided funding to the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts as well as a number of environmental projects during the campaign.