University of Southern Maine’s faculty union got a $600,000 grant to create new learning opportunities about social justice, both in and out of the classroom, officials announced Thursday.

The grant is from the National Education Association to the USM chapter of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine. It can be used to develop new curriculum, and for “pop-up” courses –– pulled together quickly to respond to current events –– that address social justice, diversity and cultural competency. The pop-up courses will be pass/fail, one or one-half credit courses that “allow students to apply their academic skills and knowledge in social justice contexts.”

“These courses will strengthen student and faculty relationships, thereby boosting student retention and graduation,” said Julie Ziffer, an associate professor of physics and co-author of the grant proposal. USM has a new Social Justice minor, the first in the state’s public university system. “The grant project builds out from the minor to provide robust multi-cultural educational opportunities for our undergraduates,” Ziffer said.

The goal of the grant is to increase retention and graduation rates through social justice education; close racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps; and promote social/racial justice professional development among early career PK-12 educators.

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