Penn State Holocaust Education Initiative receives lead gift, matching funds

July 08, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative has received an anonymous gift that includes $180,000 allocated over three years and an additional $70,000 in matching funds.

The Harrisburg-based Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) of Central Pennsylvania is facilitating the award of this contribution, which represents the Initiative’s first major gift.

Elliott Weinstein, a 1973 Penn State alumnus and former trustee who chairs the foundation’s Never Again Holocaust Education Fund, is assembling a development board to seek matching gifts and other contributions for the Initiative and related efforts.   

“We believe the Initiative will help transform the instruction of difficult topics such as the Holocaust and bigotry in schools throughout Pennsylvania and, in time, around the country,” said Weinstein, who serves on the boards of several Jewish groups. 

Led by Penn State Assistant Professor of Journalism and Film Boaz Dvir and launched in fall 2019, the Initiative has partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, as well as state and national organizations such as the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, to provide educators with the professional development and teaching tools to tackle difficult topics in their schools.

“The Initiative contributes to the growth and development of students by sharpening their teachers’ skills,” Penn State President Eric J. Barron said. “I am proud of the work of the Initiative and consider it a tremendous asset to the meaningful scholarly, pedagogical, and public work taking place at our University.” 

A multidisciplinary program, the Initiative brings together Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, College of Education, College of the Liberal Arts, Penn State Law, Humanities Institute, Jewish Studies Program, and Center for Immersive Experiences.

“The Initiative’s primary mission is to enhance and upgrade the instruction of vital difficult subjects in our commonwealth’s 775 school entities, 501 districts, and 67 counties,” said Marie Hardin, dean of the Bellisario College of Communications. “We believe that, in the process, it will also build a national model.”

At the early stage of America’s COVID-19 crisis in March, the Initiative released its first set of free learning resources to assist teachers and parents with virtual education and home schooling, respectively. Free access to ready-to-use individual learning activities for students in fifth grade and older (ages 10 and up) is available here.

The initiative, which recently received the 2020 Penn State Award for Community Engagement and Scholarship, is currently working with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to develop online trauma-informed instruction training to help teachers and school staff help students cope with crisis.

“These efforts show the Initiative’s eagerness and ability to provide flexible, meaningful support to teachers and students throughout Pennsylvania,” said College of Education Dean Kimberly Lawless.

The JCF contribution will also help the Initiative accomplish its long-term goals, which include:

  • The creation and delivery of teacher professional development based on the latest research and best practices
  • The curation and customization of Holocaust, genocide, and human rights educational content
  • The buildout of a robust, easy-to-use curricular and learning technology interface
  • The research into teaching and learning difficult topics and the efficacy of the Initiative’s activities and products
  • The creation and curation of immersive technological instructional tools such as virtual reality modules

“We’re eternally grateful to the anonymous donor,” said Dvir, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who teaches journalism in the Bellisario College of Communications. “Their belief in our work and goals inspires us to make an even greater effort to help students become critical thinkers and agents of positive change.”

Dvir and his initiative colleagues have also worked with the Act 70 Advisory Council. Enacted by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 2014 under the Corbett administration and actively supported by Gov. Tom Wolf, Act 70 encouraged schools to include the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violation instruction in their curricula. 

Last month, President Trump signed the Never Again Education Act into law. Under the auspices of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, this federal law provides $10 million over five years for Holocaust education.

“The Penn State initiative and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania stand to take a national lead with its synergy of a state legislature, state department of education, and the major state university as a model for all 50 states,” Weinstein said.

Besides Dvir, participating Penn State professors in the Initiative include:

  • Eliyana Adler, associate professor of Jewish studies and history;
  • Tobias Brinkmann, Malvin E. and Lea P. Bank Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and History;
  • John Christman, professor of philosophy, political science and women’s studies and director of the Humanities Institute;
  • Geography Professor Alexander Klippel, director of the Center for Immersive Experiences;
  • Lauren Kooistra, assistant research professor of humanities and associate director of the Humanities Institute;
  • Tiya Maluwa, H. Laddie Montague Chair in Law;
  • Efrain Marimon, assistant professor of education director of Penn State’s Restorative Justice Initiative;
  • Scott Metzger, associate professor of social studies education; and
  • Ashley N. Patterson, assistant professor of language, culture, and society education.

Initiative team members also include Penn State graduate students Kimberly Imel, Brooklyn Leonhardt, and Melissa Stanley, as well as Wisconsin’s Social Science Teacher of the Year, Kate Van Haren.

“Imagine the impact of this exciting collaboration,” said JCF Executive Director Paulette Keifer. “Using lessons of the Holocaust — how bigotry led to the attempt to eliminate a people — we will equip educators with tools to inspire humanity. Imagine seeing that impact — when never again means never again for anyone.”

Offering Pennsylvania K-12 teachers free professional development, the initiative seeks to pioneer a new approach to difficult-topic instruction that incorporates the latest research and best practices.

“Educators want and need to address difficult subjects with their students,” Dvir said. “With our first major gift, we’re in a stronger position to help them and their students.”

Anyone interested in supporting the initiative should contact Penn State Strategic Initiatives Director Heather Winfield at hbw11@psu.edu.

Last Updated October 05, 2020