The Poverty Studies Minor was approved by the Furman University Faculty on May 12, 2008, concluding a major initiative begun in January 2007. Designed on the premise that poverty can be studied best through the eyes of multiple academic disciplines, Poverty Studies is the most recent of several interdisciplinary minors now available to Furman students. Assisted by a generous grant from the Bridgeway Foundation, the Poverty Studies Minor, abbreviated PVS in university documents, was officially launched during the 2008-09 academic year. The Executive Vice President and Provost appointed a PVS Oversight Committee and named John Shelley (Religion) as Chair of the Poverty Studies Minor. Professors John Shelley (Religion) and David Gandolfo (Philosophy) team-taught the first offering of PVS 101: Introduction to Poverty Studies during the Spring Semester 2009. Elaine Nocks, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for the Theological Exploration of Vocation, taught the first version of PVS 102: The Experience of Living in Poverty, during the 2009 May Experience. The first Poverty Studies interns were recruited, approved, and funded for the summer of 2009.
Faculty approval of the Poverty Studies Minor was the culmination of a sixteen-month process initiated in January 2007 through a remarkable series of coincidences. First, the recently concluded Lilly Faculty Seminar for 2005-06 had focused on "theories of social justice." The readings and discussions in that seminar heightened the awareness of participants to the importance and the difficulties of exploring systematically both the roots of poverty and the experiences of those living in conditions of poverty. Second, John Shelley had followed for several years the development of Washington & Lee's Shepherd Program addressing "Poverty and Human Capability." At a conference in early January Shelley had spoken with Harlan Beckley, Director of the Shepherd Program, about possibilities for establishing a similar program at Furman. Third, and perhaps most important, Michele Camp, a 2006 Graduate of Furman, had gone to work as an equities trader with Bridgeway Capital Management in Houston and had learned about the company's practice of giving away fifty percent of its profits through the Bridgeway Foundation, its philanthropic arm. The Foundation is especially interested in organizations and programs addressing issues related to poverty and genocide. Camp wrote to Tom Kazee, Furman's Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean, apprising him of Bridgeway's practice and suggesting that Furman apply for a grant. Dr. Kazee appointed Elaine Nocks and John Shelley to explore the possibilities of a poverty studies program at Furman and to write a grant to the Bridgeway Foundation.
Nocks and Shelley appointed a small advisory committee [Teresa Cosby (Political Science), David Gandolfo (Philosophy), Scott Henderson (Education), Suzanne Summers (Business and Accounting), and Susan Zeiger (Director of Internships)] and then set to work. It was soon apparent that a poverty studies program at Furman would fit nicely amidst the relatively new interdisciplinary minors, but lots of details about structure and emphasis remained unclear. Harlan Beckley, Director of Washington & Lee's Shepherd Program, was invited to Furman for a two-day consultation in October 2007, as were Michele Camp and her new Bridgeway colleague, Dick Cancelmo. It was a profitable meeting, and we were very encouraged by the response of Beckley and the Bridgeway representatives. Elaine Nocks was asked to draft a grant proposal while John Shelley and David Gandolfo sketched the basic outline of a Poverty Studies Minor. After many insightful revisions by the advisory committee, the grant proposal was submitted to the Bridgeway Foundation in February 2008 and the PVS Minor proposal to the Academic Policies Committee in March. Faculty approval came at the last faculty meeting of the year on May 12.
In a broader sense, the PVS Minor is a reflection of the character and values of Furman University. Furman students and alumni have long been involved on campus and in local communities seeking to understand and assist those living in poverty. Two prominent Furman programs aimed directly at persons living in poverty, The Max Heller Service Corps (formerly Collegiate Educational Service Corps) and Bridges to a Brighter Future, have gained national recognition. The Poverty Studies Minor, now anchored in the university's academic program, is another chapter in Furman's long struggle with issues of social awareness, charity, and justice.