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National Endowment for the Humanities awards grant: “Discovering Paterson: The Silk City Project"

By: Ciara DelValle, Contributing Writer—

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a grant to PCCC titled “Discovering Paterson: The Silk City Project.” The purpose of the grant is to provide students with the chance to learn more about Paterson's rich culture and history. The main criteria to receive the grant had to be awarded to a Hispanic-serving institution, and Passaic County Community College fit that requirement.

Another criteria was that the grant selection committee had to believe the idea was worthwhile. A blank slate was given, and history professor Dr. Martha Brozyna and Prof. Alexandra Della Fera decided that they wanted to reshape the thinking people had about Paterson, and they wanted to take a multi-disciplinary approach to that end.

Professor Della Fera, a literature professor, highlighted the literary ties and cultural components of this historic city, while Dr. Martha Brozyna offered the historical side that students studied.

The grant was awarded for a full three years, but COVID got in the way for the last two years, so we have been granted an extension to carry out the grant activities that we haven’t been able to complete.

The grant began in the Spring of 2018 and was to have ended in the Fall of 2020. However, because of COVID, Professor Della Fera and Dr. Brozyna had to request two extensions, and the current deadline is December 2022. This grant has been important because it offered funding to allow us to be able to bring in experts in poetry, photography, art history and historical preservation.

These talented individuals spoke to students about their craft and how to apply new skills to study this rich city of Paterson.

Passaic River in Paterson, by Saideeka Jones

Professional photographer Mark Hillringhouse taught students about perspective and composition in photography, and then they were sent out into Paterson to photograph regular Patersonians in an unusual and distinctive way.

Another notable example is Maria Mazziotti Gillan, a nationally famous and respected poet who led workshops on poetry writing to demonstrate how students might use their rich immigrant backgrounds to tell their unique stories to others.

The students in Professor Della Fera class, would then share their work with a public audience on the grant’s blog found on our website. In addition, Dr. Brozyna would take students to the Paterson Public Library, and they learned how to digitize newspaper articles on Paterson.

On the PCCC grant libguide, they also learned how to archive these vital documents. This is significant because making vital history available electronically ensures that future generations will be able to access and learn about all elements of Paterson life. This grant had several major key players.

Professor Della Fera is the Co-Director and oversaw getting students to learn about the literary voices associated with Paterson. While Dr. Martha Brozyna, the other Co-Director, oversaw the historical components.

Prof. Walter Behr oversaw videotaping many stories of immigrants who came to Paterson with the help of his Communication students in Video Production was responsible for the video taping of countless stories of the immigrants who came to Paterson.

Many of these voices came right from our own school with students, staff, and faculty interviewed by the Phi Theta Kappa Students under the advisement of Prof. Jennifer Gasparino.

Prof. Christine Redman-Waldeyer also aided us by assigning her journalism students to cover the news stories whenever a guest speaker came to share their ideas with us. As a result, several pieces about our grant were included in our Visions publication.

Prof. Karla Williams, an art history expert, had her students develop a dynamic and interactive walking tour of all the Gaetano Federici statues in Paterson, which adds another dimension of intrigue. As you can see, this has been a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching students about historic Paterson, and all this work can be found on our website:

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) gave the money. Washington, D.C. provided the funding. There were so many other proposals from other schools competing for this grant, Professor Della Fera is proud to have been chosen ahead of the rest. The goals are to continue to have the means to keep exposing students to the rich cultural and historical background of Paterson, NJ. Professor Della Fera believes that students have been able to connect with a more creative and historic Paterson because of our work - one that is vibrant and alive. Some of this significant work is highlighted on the grant page.

(Note: PCCC discontinued our Vimeo account where all the videos were housed so now, they are getting transferred onto their YouTube channel.)

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