March 17, 2014

Among all the services that provide education to those without the means of tuition, the Clemente Course distinguishes itself with its focus on civic duty. Beginning in the fall, WPI staff will be instrumental in bringing the course to the region.

“In an era when many of us spend far more time staring into screens than we spend looking into one another’s eyes, the instructors and students in this program will be honing our capacities for critical thinking and civic engagement,” says the director of the Clemente Course in Worcester, James Cocola, “—not just in the abstract, but to and for each other.”

The Clemente Course allows college-age students who would not have the means otherwise to learn critical skills tuition-free. According to the Mass Humanities website, “the Course is based on the premise that the insights and skills offered by studying traditional humanities disciplines can provide people with crucial tools for gaining control over their lives and becoming engaged in their communities.” Those disciplines include literature, art history, moral philosophy, American history, and writing.

Cocola, who will teach the literature portion along with his duties as director, got the idea to bring the Clemente Course to WPI from his experiences teaching at Bard College. He saw the potential benefits the course could offer the region, and began working on bringing together the organizations necessary to actualize his vision. “Earlier this year, after a series of conversations with [Mass Humanities and Worcester Interfaith], I agreed to take on a pair of roles in the Worcester iteration of the Clemente Course: as both the instructor of the literature section and as the on-site academic director.”

Cocola,  assistant professor of literature, film, and media in the Department of Humanities and Arts at WPI, points out that the classes will actually be held down the street at Elm Park Community School.

“WPI will be our lead institutional partner,” says David Tebaldi, executive director at Mass Humanities, “and we hope and expect that at least one other member of the WPI Humanities Department will be teaching in the course.”

In addition to Mass Humanities, the Clemente Course is being brought to the Worcester area thanks to the help of several local institutions. “The College of the Holy Cross, Worcester State University, and the Worcester Art Museum will also be contributing to the effort, which will be administered by Worcester Interfaith,” Tebaldi notes.

According to Worcester Interfaith director Frank Kartheiser, who will be hosting the Clemente Course at Elm Park Community School, the goal is, “to develop leaders and to strengthen Community Schools. As far as we know, this will be the only Clemente Course held at a public school.”

Bridging these organizational efforts will be Elizabeth Bacon of the Education Working Group of the Worcester Cultural Coalition. “My role will be to support Jim and the students as coordinator.” Bacon says. “Frank Kartheiser and I are thrilled to be part of what we know has the potential to be a life-altering experience for every person involved.”

Cocola’s hopes are equally far-reaching. “My goals for this course revolve around students arriving at a clearer sense of agency, developing conversancy skills in their learning process, and nurturing a greater sense of empathy, both individually and collectively. Agency, conversancy, empathy—A, C, E—that’s how we plan to ace this course.”

The rest of the staff should be finalized in May for a projected October 2014 course start date.

More information on the Clemente Course can be found at the Mass Humanities site, here

Students interested in being a part of the course may contact Elizabeth Bacon at