Monks commit $1.5 million to the College of Education

Annemarie Mountz
October 26, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As educators, College of Education Dean David H. Monk and his wife, Pam, assistant teaching professor of journalism in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, long have recognized the important role narrative has played in human affairs since antiquity.

Now, they’re supporting efforts by the greater Penn State community to learn more about the power of the story and its role in today’s world through a $1.5 million estate gift commitment.

David H. and Pamela Monk

David H. and Pamela Monk

IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

The gift to the College of Education is structured in two parts: $1 million to establish a named professorship through the creation of a faculty endowment, and $500,000 to establish a named program endowment to support the work of a new Center for the Story. The Monks’ intent is for these endowments to work in tandem, with the named professor serving as a leader for the center.

“The premise of the center is that the effective use of narrative lies at the heart of effective leadership, pedagogy and socio-cultural advancement. The goals of the center focus on how leaders, teachers, advocates and social entrepreneurs can use the power of story, through multiple platforms, to improve lives, classrooms, communities and the world,” said David Monk, who announced he will be stepping down as dean of the College of Education on June 30, 2019.

Linking a tenure-line, endowed faculty member to the center will maintain a focus on research and scholarship bearing on the role of narrative in pedagogy and leadership. The faculty endowment will support the work of a faculty member with broad interests in pedagogy and/or leadership, areas where the College of Education invests regularly given the centrality of these content areas to the mission of the college.

The Monks are not stipulating the departmental location for the endowed faculty member, but given the research interests supported by the endowment, its home department likely will be either Curriculum and Instruction or Education Policy Studies.

“While we are hoping our estates will not ‘mature’ for quite some time, we also hope it will be possible for the center to begin to function sooner rather than later,” David Monk said. “We are exploring ways to make annual contributions to help launch activities and welcome ideas about how this might be accomplished.”

Faculty already are doing research in the areas that will be supported by the activities and could benefit from such annual contributions.

Faculty members in the College of Education at Penn State and elsewhere have active research interests in the power of story to develop the identities of adolescents, particularly the racial identities of adolescents from underrepresented groups. Others are researching the power of story to enhance teaching and leadership capabilities. Faculty members in the college also are researching the power of story to help individuals come to terms with disabilities they experience.

In addition, narrative analysis has emerged as a social science research approach to examine people’s life histories, social identities, and ways storytelling may build solidarity across differences in place of origin, class, gender and ethnicity.

“Stories build community, transmit knowledge, provide insight. They give shape to our aspirations, point out solutions to our problems and help us face our fears. A good story builds empathy, breaks down divisions, helps us understand each other better,” Pam Monk said.

The Monks say they hope the creation of a Center for the Story will promote the study and further development of this contemporary, as well as ancient, art.

“Storytelling can be a powerful pedagogical tool, highlighting successes, identifying challenges, harnessing its power to enlighten, entertain and educate,” David Monk said. “It can strengthen leadership and improve social function. There are fascinating research questions surrounding the use and improvement of narrative in these contexts, and the center will position Penn State at the forefront of scholarly work in this area.”

Other related activities also are in progress and thriving in the area of storytelling.

“State of the Story is in its fourth season, and last year’s  student program, State of the Story: Campus Edition, inspired students to create a storytelling collaboration between Penn State students and  creative writing initiatives at the State Correctional Institution – Benner Township,” said Pam Monk. “Faculty members from the Bellisario College of Communications have been particularly active in the State of the Story, and we’ve seen a rising level of interest in the role of personal narrative and its connection with social media and immersive technologies.”

Pam Monk has been involved since the beginning in the State of the Story (SOTS) initiative, a live storytelling and music performance series held six times a year in downtown State College, across from the University Park campus.

“State of the Story celebrates the ability of stories to honor both the diversity and commonality of human experience, and to satisfy a vital human need for connection,” she said. “Each performance is organized around a theme, and encourages storytelling among communities whose stories often go unheard.”

Narrative has played an important role in human affairs since antiquity, beginning with oral narrative and continuing more recently with print and electronic means of communication. Narrative gives rise to stories that take many forms that have been ubiquitous in human affairs, including personal accounts, folk tales, histories, parables, reflections, and nonfiction or journalistic accounts. The rise of digital storytelling platforms such as YouTube highlights the attraction and the power of narrative as a way of organizing and understanding the world.

However, that power to advance leadership, pedagogy and advocacy/pro-social agendas is only partially understood and appreciated.

“Great leaders throughout history have been masters of ‘getting the story right’ and communicating it effectively to share meaning and to build support,” Pam Monk said. “Great teachers also have understood and harnessed the power of story as a means of helping learners understand both themselves and the larger world. Strides in the human condition, such as those around civil rights in the U.S., have been driven by the use of stories that move people to action.”

Creation of the Center for the Story would be a home base for those researching all aspects of narrative, nurturing interdisciplinary collaborations.

“We anticipate building bridges to the Bellasario College of Communications, the School of Theatre in the College of Arts and Architecture, and perhaps other units at Penn State,” David Monk said. “We envision the research that comes out of these collaborations will go far in furthering the arts and humanities, one of the University’s strategic planning priorities.”

Creation of the Center for the Story is a key initiative of the college’s current strategic plan.

“In building our plan, we were searching for the sweet spot where college and donor priorities coincided, such as the work we have done in the area of innovation thanks to the incredibly generous support of Gay and Bill Krause,” David Monk said.

“Pam and I were thinking about making an estate commitment in the area of personal narrative, and we floated the idea about the creation of a Center for the Story.”

He said the faculty response was positive and gratifying, which led the college to include the idea as one of the components of the college’s strategic plan, under the thematic priority of Elevating the Arts and Humanities.

The Monks had no connection to Penn State before David became dean of the College of Education, but within no time at all, strong bonds formed.

“Both David and I have satisfying work here. Our daughter, a 2003 alumna, had a great academic experience and made lasting friendships, and our son worked at the Nittany Lion Inn for 10 years, first as sous chef then as executive chef. Penn State is the one institution that we all have in common,” Pam Monk said. “David and I have been fortunate. Education has been the key to our success and a gift to Penn State is a logical expression of our gratitude.”

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st  Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 31, 2018