How It Started

The Community-Oriented Digital Engagement Scholars (CODES) program is the most recent iteration of an idea originated in a planning group organized by the Provost’s office in January 2017 to investigate the possibility of Mellon funding. The goal was to create a program that provided underserved students increased access to High Impact Practices, including undergraduate research experiences and community-based learning. In this first outline of the project, student research teams would operate in a series of pods led by faculty mentors.

NEH Humanities Connections Planning Grant

After learning the Mellon Foundation wasn’t a good fit at the time due to SIUE’s research classification, one of the original planning committee members, Dr. Jessica DeSpain, decided to apply for an NEH Humanities Connections Planning Grant in October 2017 to conceive of the finer details for the initiative, then called the Digital Community Engagement Pathway. Dr. DeSpain was awarded a grant for $35,000 in Spring of 2018, which included plans to collaborate with Lewis and Clark Community College planning team members Dean Jill Lane and Jennifer Cline so that students at Lewis and Clark could collaborate with SIUE students and faculty before transferring fully in their third year. Dr. DeSpain’s original proposal focused on the humanities and social sciences with team members Dr. Connie Frey Spurlock, Dr. Howard Rambsy, and Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt. Because Interim Associate Provost Dr. Jessica Harris had been working on a similar initiative for the McNair Foundation, she and Dr. Michael Hankins also joined the planning committee. Dr. Hankins’s focus on the physical sciences has further expanded the interdisciplinary objectives of the project. The full team began meeting monthly in May 2018. In the summer of 2019, with preparations underway to finalize the curriculum and apply for future funding the team changed the name to CODES to make it more descriptive and identifiable to students.

Program Rationale

From its inception as the Mellon initiative, CODES has been intended as a program for underserved students. In a way, CODES is an alternative to the Honors Program for students who may not have the ACT scores or GPA required for entrance to that program. The program of study is designed specifically with underserved and first generation college students in mind. Through the use of High Impact Practices and a curriculum embedded in the community, students have the opportunity to get hands-on experience with their degree and make a difference. Additionally, by incorporating the digital component, regardless of their major, students are receiving invaluable twenty-first century skills like complex problem solving, collaboration, communicating interpersonally, and writing for the web.

Our Planning Goals

The planning period, as outlined in the grant, is from May 2018 through April 2019. During this time-frame, the project team has had four main objectives:

  • Research and data collection, in which the project team interviews department chairs, conducts an environmental study, and researches existing literature and programs
  • Curricular and community planning, in which the project team designs course material drafts, meets with community stakeholders, and investigates further funding opportunities
  • Curricular revisions and recruitment, in which the project team meets with focus groups to share course materials, determine faculty interest, and consider needed training to develop final versions of materials and begin developing faculty and student recruitment plans
  • Sharing of outcomes and assessment of feasibility, in which the project team publishes findings related to curricular, community, and recruitment planning and opens the project up for public review going into the pilot periodic Fall 2020

The Timeline

January 2017: The Provost began holding meetings to develop a program making HIPs more available to undeserved students, with hope to submit a proposal to the Mellon Foundation.

Spring 2017: DeSpain spoke with the Mellon Foundation, who declined to invite SIUE to submit a proposal.

October 2017: Dr. DeSpain submitted an NEH Humanities Connections Grant with the support of Katie Knowles and Connie Frey Spurlock.

March 2018: The committee learned that the NEH Humanities Connections Grant was accepted.

May 2018-February 2019: The DCEP Planning Committee held monthly meetings to conduct research and begin to develop curricular, community engagement, and recruitment materials.

March 2019-April 2019: The Planning Committee brings Dr. James Liszka of the SUNY Common Problems Project to campus to help introduce the concept for the Digital Community Engagement Pathway and hosts focus groups with faculty, students, and community members to receive feedback on the planning process.

Summer 2019: The project team plans to host a week-long series of training events for interested faculty, and selected participants develop syllabi and materials for the pilot.

Academic Year 2019-2020: The project team finalizes details related to student admission, funding, research summits, and housing, and submits the curricular proposal.

Fall 2020: The project team plans to launch a pilot version of the Digital Community Engagement Pathway using existing courses taught by the instructors who participated in the Summer 2019 training.

Fall 2021: The full program is implemented, incorporating revisions as needed from the pilot version of the program.


The project team consulted readings on community engagement, the digital humanities, interdisciplinary teaching, and retention and success for underserved students. Our list of readings is available here.

Project Director

Jessica DeSpain is an Associate Professor of English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and is the co-director of SIUE’s IRIS Center for the Digital Humanities. She is the author of Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book (Ashgate, 2014), and the lead editor of The Wide, Wide World Digital Edition, an exploration of the reprints of Susan Warner’s bestselling nineteenth-century novel. She has published several articles on the intersections of book history and digital humanities pedagogy. DeSpain collaborated with faculty in English, History, Education, and STEM on the NSF-funded Digital East St. Louis Project, in which middle school students in East St. Louis built a digital project about the history and culture of their city. She is currently the director of the NEH-funded Conversation Toward a Brighter Future project wherein middle and high school students participate in digital storytelling studios about the value of intergenerational relationships.

Project Team

Jen Cline is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lewis and Clark Community College. She designed and now coordinates their Honors College, which is an interdisciplinary program primarily incorporating the humanities and social sciences. She has experience developing honors interdisciplinary courses related to social problems including racial and ethnic relations. She has continued her academic training by taking courses focused on innovative teaching methods and service learning. She is also Vice President of the Alton Main Street Executive Board. Cline has been particularly effective for imagining what shape the Pathway project will take at L&C.
Connie Frey Spurlock is an Associate Professor of Sociology and the Faculty Director of SIUE’s Successful Communities Collaborative, a cross-disciplinary program that supports one-year partnerships between the University and communities as a part of the national EPIC Network, an award-winning program for fostering university/community partnerships.
Michael Hankins is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Deparment of Chemistry. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics in far-from-equilibrium electrochemical systems, role of cyclic/oscillatory biological reactions in autoimmune disorders, and synchronization characteristics of battery systems.
Jessica Harris is an associate professor of historical studies in the SIUE College of Arts and Sciences and Interim Associate Provost. Harris’ work at SIUE has included a special assignment as a Provost Fellow for Diversity and Inclusion. In this role, she collaborated with faculty colleagues, undergraduate and graduate students, the Honors Program, the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Affairs to launch a pilot of Sustained Dialogue, a powerful five-stage social action model encouraging dialogue across differences, as a curricular and co-curricular program.
Kristine Hildebrandt is an associate professor in the Department of English Language and Literature. Her research profile includes language documentation and preservation. She is the principal investigator on two projects funded by the National Science Foundation’s Documenting Endangered Languages program, and previously directed a documentation project, funded by the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project at the School of Oriental and African Studies to document endangered/vulnerable languages of northern-central Nepal: Nar and Phu. Check out her collaborative work with SIUE faculty and students at: https://mananglanguages.isg.siue.edu/.
Katherine Knowles is the IRIS Center Project Manager. She has has a BA in English and Music from Hanover College and an MA in Shakespeare Studies from the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. She currently manages the Conversation Toward a Brighter Future 2.0 project as well as the planning phase for the Digital Community Engagement Pathway.
Jill O’Shea Lane is the Dean of Transfer Programs at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois.  Prior to her appointment to this position, Jill was an Assistant Professor of Speech at Lewis & Clark.  Jill has extensive experience in higher education and government.  Jill served as the Director of Governmental Relations at the Illinois Community College Board where she lobbied the Illinois Legislature on behalf of the community college system in Illinois.  She also spent several years at the University of IllinoisSpringfield as Projects Manager of the Illinois Legislative Studies Center.  Jill has served as staff to the Illinois Legislature as an Analyst at the Illinois Citizens Assembly and as staff in the Illinois Governor’s Office as a Budget Analyst for the Bureau of the Budget.