Magazine article Humanities

In Focus: North Dakota's Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt

Magazine article Humanities

In Focus: North Dakota's Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt

Article excerpt

AS ONE OF FIVE CHILDREN GROWING UP IN THE RURAL COMMUNITY of Center, North Dakota, Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt spent many hours at the town's small library, discovering books. It was there, among those volumes, that she developed her devotion to lifelong learning. She has spent the years since honing that interest, both for her own pleasure and for the benefit of all the North Dakotans she can reach.

After graduating magna cum laude from Minnesota's Concordia College with a major in religion and minors in classical studies and psychology, Gerhardt turned her sights toward Cambridge, Massachusetts. She received her master's degree in theological studies from Harvard's Divinity School in 2005 and headed home to the heartland, where she was hired as the program and resource coordinator for the North Dakota Humanities Council.

"They took a chance on me," she reflects, with a smile. "I was super young, but super passionate." Since July 2008, Gerhardt has been executive director of the council, where she focuses on encouraging thoughtful debate in the state's communities. It's a responsibility-and a challenge- that she relishes.

North Dakota's council supports an array of institutions and individuals, focusing particularly on galvanizing creative collaborations between public and private partnerships. In a state whose university system includes I I campuses, an agriculturally focused economy in the east, and an energy-based economy in the west, the task can be daunting.

"We've stopped teaching [humanities] in our schools. It's the study of being human and everything that humans have struggled for, achieved, endured throughout time and place. It's our human story and one we need to teach our kids and adults," says Gerhardt. "Too often, we're too siloed, and the job of the council is to ask people, How do you live an amazing life in which you never stop learning, growing, and engaging with your community?"

The North Dakota Humanities Council saw a need to create dialog and to get people actively thinking in these terms. It created GameChanger, an annual ideas festival that Gerhardt affectionately calls their "passion project." Each year, the council identifies an idea, event, or issue that's changing the face of the world. It invites individuals close to the action to come for a one-day event in September to share their ideas on how to manage these challenges. …

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