In 1976 America was celebrating its bicentennial with nationwide events, ceremonial currency and substantial media coverage. Spurred by the enthusiasm over this anniversary, Continuing Studies created its own lecture series, “Interpreting America,” focused on the bicentennial. Sponsored by the Houston National Bank, these courses corresponded with the public television program “America” hosted by Alistair Cooke (also sponsored by the Houston National Bank).
In contrast to the highly technical courses the Office of Continuing Studies had offered before, “Interpreting America” appealed to a larger audience and focused on historical and cultural programming. The evening classes were held on the Rice campus and at the Kinkaid School. The classes covered a wide range of all things American: presidents, heroes, furniture design, art, literature, Native Americans, governmental structures and cinema among others. The instructors included prominent professors and lecturers from Rice, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and other well-known institutions.
To ensure the program was successful and attracted larger audiences, Dean Mary McIntire, then the director of the program, generated interest by making presentations to social and civic organizations, large companies, public and private educational institutions, retirement communities and church groups. Three-minute commercials for “Interpreting America” featuring McIntire and the program faculty also ran during the “America” series on local TV. These resolute efforts along with the 40,000 Houston National Bank customers who received the program information secured an outstanding audience for the series and greatly expanded the reach and reputation of the continuing studies.
Comments from Dean McIntire:
“Interpreting America” was our first large scale series of courses. It became the model for so many of the programs we still offer today – evening short courses, often taught by Rice faculty on history, culture and the arts, appealing to an audience with wide-ranging interests. Kudos to Dr. Linda Driskill, director of Continuing Studies at this time, for dreaming it up and securing our first major funding.