Story+ Graduate Mentors Pass Down Knowledge, Build Their Futures

Adela Deanova and Story+ team

After working together for weeks, English Ph.D. candidate Meghan O’Neil and her Story+ team of undergraduate students delivered a digital research guide and a set of digital exhibits to their client. The most valuable part of the experience for O’Neil, however, was the community she developed.

“It’s all about creating dynamic learning communities and about figuring out how to combine your own personal research in some kind of larger structure or in a way that can make research a public resource,” O’Neil said of her experience in Story+, a new six-week summer research experience for graduate and undergraduate students interested in bringing academic research to life through dynamic storytelling.

Story+ launched this summer with funding from the Franklin Humanities Institute and Bass Connections, and in partnership with Versatile Humanists at Duke. Five project teams, each consisting of at least one graduate mentor and two to three undergraduate students, conducted qualitative, humanities-based research for sponsoring faculty or organizations, culminating in a final project in the form of writing, websites, exhibits, short films/videos or other genres.

“Story+ gives doctoral students the opportunity to shape a complex undertaking in applied humanities,” said Edward Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies, whose office oversees the program. “They serve as mentors to undergraduate team members, helping them define roles, develop research strategies, work collaboratively, set goals and timelines and revise their writing and other analytical work outputs.”

Undergraduate students were expected to participate in the program full time while graduate students committed to 12 to 15 hours a week. Graduate and undergraduate students received stipends for their participation—$2,500 and $3,000, respectively.

In addition to meeting with their individual groups throughout the week, the project teams attended two events each week: Friday check-in sessions and a breakfast speaker series featuring experts in some aspect of narrative or digital humanities.

O’Neil, the graduate mentor for the Race and Ethnicity in Advertising project, said involvement with programs like Story+ and Bass Connections (in which she has also participated) can be key to building the networks that graduate students need. O’Neil said she realized over the course of her time in graduate school that connections are indispensable both professionally and personally, and that graduate students should get involved early in opportunities like Story+.

“I think the thing that a lot of graduate students don’t realize and that I didn’t realize coming in, is that you have to be very intentional about creating communities in graduate school,” she said. “In my experience and in many others, I think, graduate school can be very isolating.”

O’Neil’s Story+ experience allowed her to expand her own community while helping undergraduates connect with her network. She said the latter was essential not only to assist the undergraduates in their project, “but also to have as a resource for their entire undergraduate time. Helping undergrads recognize that those people are there and they are really excited about helping and developing relationships with undergraduates and their projects, that is the really exciting part of it for me.”

Before she could connect her teammates to her network, however, O’Neil had to first build the connections within the team.

“In the beginning it was ‘How do we work together as a team? What are our skills? How do we collaborate?’” she said.

O’Neil was not the only mentor who wrestled with creating a cohesive working environment. Adela Deanova, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, faced similar challenges as the graduate mentor for the RTI International 60th Anniversary Commemoration project.

“How do I take two undergraduates…who have different research skills, backgrounds and personalities?” Deanova said. “How do I take two people I’ve never worked with and how do I figure out a management leadership style that works for both of them and make the team gel and deliver something in six weeks with that?”

While Deanova had worked on similar projects, she said Story+ gave her experience in developing the skills of the undergraduate students. Deanova said her role was split into three parts: mentorship, project management and client communication. Though the project was the main focus of the six weeks, Deanova took time to teach the undergraduates valuable career skills such as sending formal emails and producing professional materials.

“I’m basically teaching them how to liaise with clients and how to use more nuanced thinking like, ‘Ok, what is it that the client needs? How can I think about their needs and deliver them before they start asking me for things?’” she said.

“For me that was a really fun challenge, I had to think back to…on my first job, how did my boss train me then? It was an incredibly valuable management and leadership learning experience for me.”

O’Neil and Deanova said their Story+ experience will benefit them in their future careers. O’Neil hopes to pursue a career off the tenure track, either working in a humanities institute or a provost office, or helping with education programming or curriculum development. She said her Story+ involvement gave her practical know-how.

“In working for one of these institutes, you have to identify people who will work well together and whose research speaks to each other across disciplinary lines,” she said. “So I think for me I have gotten a lot out of meeting new people in different departments and thinking about different research methods.”

For Deanova, Story+ sparked a new career interest in not-for-profit research organizations. She also gained experience mentoring undergraduate students, added a tangible experience to her résumé, developed references and expanded her professional network.

“I think anybody who is doing any kind of humanities degree…if there is any doubt about your ability to get a tenure-track job, I think you need to diversify your résumé, and this is an awesome way to do it,” she said.

By Brooke Helton; originally posted on Versatile Humanists at Duke

Photo: Adela Deanova speaks during her Story+ team’s presentation on June 28, 2017

Eight Doctoral Students Receive Internships through Versatile Humanists

Eight Duke Ph.D. students have been selected for internships in Summer or Fall 2017 through Versatile Humanists at Duke (VH@Duke), an initiative to prepare Duke doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences for transformative roles in higher education and beyond.

The VH@Duke internship program provides Ph.D. students with exposure to work experiences, organizations and professions relevant to their scholarly interests. The internship experiences are designed to enrich students’ dissertations and further prepare them for both academic and nonacademic jobs. Students can apply for internships at preidentified partner organizations or propose their own internship.

VH@Duke is funded by a three-year Next Generation Ph.D. Implementation Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to internships, VH@Duke also provides opportunities and resources such as innovation grants for curriculum enhancement, collaborative research experiences and one-to-one advising for Ph.D. students.

The application period for the next cycle of VH@Duke internships will open in Fall 2017. Students who are considering proposing their own internships are encouraged to contact Maria LaMonaca Wisdom ( for preliminary feedback.

The 2017 VH@Duke interns are:

BanellaLaura Banella, Romance Studies (Summer)

Banella is interning with the International Society for the Study of Medieval Culture (SISMEL), a nonprofit research and cultural institute located in Florence, Italy. SISMEL’s mission is to promote and support the study of medieval culture. In her role at SISMEL, Banella will help build research and bibliographic databases and organize programs and events.

GoldsmithWilliam Goldsmith, History (Summer)

Goldsmith will be interning with RTI International, an independent nonprofit institute dedicated to improving the human condition by applying interdisciplinary research to complex scientific and social challenges. In his role, Goldsmith will work with RTI’s Innovation Led Economic Growth team, engaging in research, writing and policy analysis.

LazarYael Lazar, Religion (Fall)

Lazar is interning with the National Humanities Center (NHC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advanced study in all areas of the humanities. She will be curating a digital online resource for the NHC’s “Humanities Moments” campaign and helping to support local and national outreach components of the initiative.

NunnNora Nunn, English (Summer)

Nunn is also interning with the National Humanities Center.  She will be working with researchers in the NHC’s Trans-Pacific Teacher-Scholars Program to develop interactive, inquiry-based classroom materials to align with the upcoming commemorations and anniversaries of the American Vietnam War.

SmithNathan Smith, Literature (Summer)

Smith is interning with Mono No Aware, a nonprofit community film organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Mono No Aware’s mission is to build community through the experience of the moving image. In his internship, Smith will be setting up and facilitating film workshops, supporting fundraising activities and creating a film of his own.

StadlerJohn Stadler, Literature (Summer)

Stadler will be interning with The Cupboard Pamphlet, a micropublisher of creative prose based in Littleton, Colorado. In his role at The Cupboard Pamphlet, Stadler will cultivate the publication’s expanding catalogue and engage in research of new literary markets and opportunities.

VenturaRafael Ventura, Philosophy (Fall)

Ventura will be interning with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. During his internship, he will work closely with the museum’s Community Engagement team, supporting outreach efforts through event management, program development and public relations.

YoungAshley Rose Young, History (Summer)

Young will be interning with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. She will be curating an update to one of the museum’s exhibits—Food: Transforming the American Table—and working in the Archives Center.

Originally posted on Versatile Humanists at Duke

Duke Is Part of a Movement to Reconfigure Humanities Doctoral Education

Versatile Humanists at Duke is part of a much larger movement to reconfigure humanities doctoral education for the twenty-first century. Although VH@Duke focuses on approaches to doctoral training among our own Ph.D. students and faculty, the program aspires to be a national model for innovations in humanities graduate training. Across the United States, many humanists are rethinking such matters, thanks in large part to the support of both the Mellon Foundation (Connected Academics, Career Diversity for Historians) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (Next Generation Ph.D.).

Late last month, Duke took part in this larger, national conversation at a program directors’ meeting for the twenty-eight universities currently receiving an NEH Next Generation planning or implementation grant. Despite substantial geographical, structural, and programmatic diversity, some key themes and commonalties emerged over a full day’s worth of discussion.

The NEH project leaders highlighted a cluster of priority action items for Ph.D. training. Almost all fell into one of three categories: enhanced professional training for humanities Ph.D. students, curricular innovations, or strategies to cultivate faculty buy-in.

We can sustain the best traditions of humanistic inquiry and teaching while adapting to new exigencies, new modes of research and expression, and new missions.

Read the full post by Edward Balleisen and Maria LaMonaca Wisdom on the Versatile Humanists website.

Photo: Edward Balleisen and Maria LaMonaca Wisdom represented Duke at January’s meeting of program directors from universities receiving an NEH Next Generation grant.

Story+ Offers Training in Bringing Academic Research to Life

Deadline: March 3, 2017

How do we tell compelling stories about complex historical, cultural and social realities? What goes into creating great stories that stay with the audience, and even change minds?

Story+ is a new six-week summer research experience for undergraduate and graduate students interested in bringing academic research to life through dynamic storytelling.

Undergraduates will work in small teams with graduate student mentors, in a collaborative and creative research environment. Each project will have a client. Students will learn to conduct qualitative, humanities-based research (e.g., archival research, narrative analysis, visual analysis, ethnography) and to communicate their research through effective storytelling techniques.

Final projects may take the form of writing, websites, exhibits, short films or other genres, depending on the project’s goals.

Story+ is offered through the Franklin Humanities Institute and Bass Connections, in partnership with Versatile Humanists at Duke.

Story+ Project Teams for Summer 2017

Participation Details

Story+ will take place during Summer Term 1 (May 17-June 28). Undergraduate participants will receive a stipend of $3,000, out of which they must arrange their own housing and travel (residence halls are open for the summer term). This is a full-time program: undergraduate participants may not accept employment or take classes during the program.

Each project team will be led by at least one graduate student mentor, who will receive $2,500 in research funds. The weekly time commitment for graduate student mentors is approximately 12-15 hours.

Project teams will work in collaborative work space at the Franklin Humanities Institute, as well as at offsite locations to collect data. Students will also participate in regular learning lunches related to effective storytelling techniques.


Story+ is open to:

  • All undergraduates, except graduating seniors
  • All graduate students, with preference given to doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences.

How to Apply

Students may apply to one or more of the five projects. The application consists of two short essays, a resume, a writing sample, an unofficial transcript and contact information for two references. Graduate students interested in a mentoring role on a Story+ team should follow the same application process.


The deadline for priority consideration of applications is Friday, March 3, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. Applicants will be notified by the end of March.

Versatile Humanists at Duke Announces Internship Program for Ph.D. Students

Deadline: February 24, 2017 

Anyone who has applied for a professional position knows that it’s an exercise in “measuring up.” Do my skills match what the organization is looking for? Can I prove that I’ve got what it takes? Will my application be noticed in the pile of other, competing ones?

The VH@Duke internship program turns that process on its head. On January 19, Duke graduate students from approximately ten academic departments gathered to meet representatives from five local Triangle organizations. These VH@Duke partner organizations didn’t need to be convinced of the many skills that humanities and interpretive social science Ph.D. students offer. They have already created internship opportunities specifically for Duke Ph.D. students in humanistic disciplines. They were excited to have an opportunity to talk to interested students about their internship openings.

Perhaps even more remarkably, the representatives from each organization did not spend their time talking about skills they were looking for. Instead, they described a wide range of new experiences and skills that Duke humanities Ph.D. students—who already bring so much to the table—can gain through a VH@Duke internship. They include:

  • Working in diverse teams
  • Seeing an immediate, concrete impact of your work on local communities
  • Learning the behind-the-scenes workings of nonprofit organizations
  • Envisioning global, practical applications of academic research
  • Using new technology
  • Doing advocacy work for the humanities
  • Communicating through documentary work and social media platforms

If that list has you intrigued, check out the VH@Duke internship program description and call for applications. You can apply for any of eight internship positions with VH@Duke partner organizations. You can also apply for support for an internship you create and propose yourself.

Pre-existing opportunities include

Timing and Financial Support

Internships can be completed in summer 2017, fall 2017, or spring 2018. Students will receive a stipend for participating (ranging from $4,000 to $6,000 depending on the duration of the internship). Internships will require between 15 and 19.9 hours of work per week and will typically last between 10 and 15 weeks. Students may not teach or hold other compensated positions for the duration of the internship.


  • Students must be enrolled full-time during their internship.
  • Students must be in good academic standing.
  • Students are urged to discuss with their advisers and directors of graduate studies the optimal timing for the internship.
  • Students must be pre-approved by their departments and provide a letter signed by both the DGS and the adviser.

To Apply

Complete the online application. Applicants will need three references with contact information, and one PDF file containing the following items:

  • Signed letter of approval from student’s adviser and director of graduate studies
  • Current CV
  • Current copy of Duke transcript or ACES report
  • An application letter that outlines:
    • The student’s interest in the specific opportunity
    • Skills and competencies that will help the student succeed in the position
    • Explanation of how the internship will benefit student’s academic and/or professional goals

Note: Students may apply for more than one pre-identified opportunity, but should submit a separate, customized application letter for each position.

Students proposing their own internship (OPTION 2) should follow the steps above AND provide the following additional information in their PDF upload:

  • Detailed information in the letter of application describing the organization and opportunity
  • A letter of commitment from the host organization, explaining how the internship is of mutual benefit and whether the organization can contribute to the stipend cost of the internship (Note: Host organizations are not required to contribute to the cost of the internship, but such contributions can be an important sign of the organization’s commitment to ensuring that the experience is successful and can enable Duke to increase the number of internships funded)

Selection Process

Applications will be reviewed by representatives of The Graduate School and the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Affairs.

For pre-existing opportunities with Versatile Humanist partners (Option One), the selection committee will forward the most competitive applications to the respective host organizations. Finalists will likely be invited to interview on site in early March.

All applicants will be notified of their status by late March.

During the term of their internship, VH@Duke interns are expected to reserve time in their schedules for monthly cohort meetings on or near campus, and two one-on-one meetings with the director for graduate student advising and engagement for the humanities. At the conclusion of their internships, participants will be asked to reflect on their experiences via the VH@Duke blog (and possibly other media).

Have questions on how to go about this? Please contact Maria Wisdom for advice or suggestions.

Welcome to Versatile Humanists at Duke

Versatile Humanists at Duke is the result of a multiyear Next Generation Ph.D. grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The initiative provides resources such as internships, one-on-one advising and project management opportunities to help Duke Ph.D. students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences prepare for fulfilling careers and impact both within and beyond the academy.

VH@Duke is supported by the NEH, The Graduate School and the Provost’s Office. Its mission is to prepare Duke graduate students to make a difference in their careers as humanists, whether inside or outside the academy. Offerings are geared to help future Ph.D.s in the humanities and interpretive social sciences flourish—in higher education, government, business, the nonprofit sector or wherever their talents and inclinations might lead.

Versatility is just as vital for successful careers within academia as beyond it. The many challenges now confronting higher education compel today’s faculty members and administrators to work in teams, span boundaries, navigate diverse work cultures and cultivate the habits of effective leadership. Today’s Ph.D. students in the humanities will lead and contribute most effectively with a diverse skill set.

Maria LaMonaca Wisdom, the new Director of Graduate Student Advising and Engagement for the Humanities, looks forward to advising graduate students on just about any question related to flourishing in graduate school, navigating among various professional development opportunities at Duke and preparing for both academic and non-academic job markets. Students can set up an appointment by emailing

Explore the website for more information about internships, innovation grants, advising, project management, resources and upcoming events.

New Position Created to Guide Humanities Graduate Students through Career Paths

wisdom-1140x760Maria LaMonaca Wisdom will support doctoral students in becoming versatile humanists

The Graduate School has appointed Maria LaMonaca Wisdom as Director of Graduate Student Advising and Engagement for the Humanities, beginning November 1. This new role is part of a university-wide program to expand career opportunities for humanities doctoral students.

In August 2016, Duke received a Next Generation Ph.D. Implementation Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Duke’s new program will support skills training relevant for both academic and non-academic career paths, a wide array of new internship opportunities, and curricular innovations that incorporate collaborative research. It will facilitate partnerships across campus, linking doctoral students to programs offered by The Graduate School, the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke Libraries, the Social Science Research Institute, the Career Center and Bass Connections.

Since 2003, roughly half of Duke’s Ph.D. recipients in the humanities and interpretive social sciences have found tenure-track positions teaching at colleges and universities. A growing number of graduate students have expressed interest in expanding their training to incorporate such arenas as social entrepreneurship or policy analysis.

Wisdom will help humanities graduate students to integrate curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities into their individual academic plans, as well as to explore diverse career paths and develop plans for achieving their career goals. She will also provide assistance to faculty, departmental leaders, and alumni to support students in this endeavor.

“I have a strong desire to help students navigate the professional challenges and opportunities currently facing humanities Ph.D.s,” Wisdom said. “That’s why I am excited about this new program and position. It’s an opportunity to not only help students at Duke, but also contribute to a national conversation about the future of humanities graduate education.”

Wisdom received her B.A. from the College of William and Mary, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Victorian literature from Indiana University. After teaching at Valparaiso University as a Lilly postdoctoral fellow in the humanities, she worked as an assistant/associate professor of English at Columbia College in South Carolina. While at Columbia College, she was co-PI and co-director for a Lilly-funded faculty mentoring program, and her advising and mentoring work with students included a term as director of Columbia’s Washington Semester internship program.

In 2012, Wisdom became executive director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she oversaw scholarship and leadership development programs for humanities faculty. She also co-created and implemented programs to address the unique needs of both humanities and STEM faculty at specific stages in their careers.

Wisdom is the author of Masked Atheism: Catholicism and the Secular Victorian Home (Ohio State University Press, 2008), and her articles on women, religion, and Victorian culture have appeared in a range of peer-reviewed journals. Her scholarship has been supported by two awards from the NEH, and she has served as a reviewer/consultant for the NEH, the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program, Ohio State University Press, Wharton School of Business (MBA Writing Challenge), and several scholarly journals.