Student Feature: Allison Utting

Last summer, when I heard about the grand reopening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the new Devos Learning Center, I knew I had to learn more. I made a visit to the museum, and while there, I had the opportunity to meet with the museum’s education specialist, Barbara McGregor. I expressed interest in volunteering at the museum throughout the summer, but Barbara had a better idea. She was in need of support to prepare for the launch of the new learning center and offered me a special internship. As a student pursuing a degree in secondary education with a focus on history and political science, it was an incredible offer, and I asked how quickly I could start.

When the museum was built in the late 1970’s, President Ford was adamant that he did not want the museum to be a shrine to him, but rather, a classroom for democracy. With this vision in mind, the museum has designed dozens of educational opportunities for learners of all ages. I spent the summer assisting with museum events, leading school tours, and developing curriculum. My biggest task involved the development of a curriculum guide for the museum’s current temporary exhibit, Space: A Journey to Our Future. The purpose of the guide was to add historical context to a science heavy exhibit. I was to provide teachers with pre and post visit activities, background materials, and primary sources on the United States Space Program and President Ford’s involvement in it.

As a young representative, Gerald R. Ford was on the committee that created NASA, and as president in 1975, he presided over the successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Skills I learned in my history classes at Hope College helped me analyze nearly one hundred primary sources, selected from thousands archived at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor on Ford’s contributions to the U.S. Space Program. I loved reading the address Nixon prepared to give the nation had we not landed on the moon.  Equally intriguing were the monthly newsletters Ford wrote to his constituents while serving in the House of Representatives. Even some of the most unassuming documents contained valuable information.  An entire packet of documents was devoted to how President Ford should respond to a successful Apollo-Soyuz mission. While his administration debated whether a call to Soviet Premier Brezhnev or a meeting with the Russian cosmonauts was appropriate, I, as a historian, read between the lines and found a story of U.S. and Soviet relations in the latter half of the twentieth century. A critical reader, well versed in historical literacy skills, can discover important details on the Space Race and intricate nuances of the Ford administration within the context of a single event or memorandum. Background knowledge of dates, United States foreign policy, and international relations at the time allowed me to conceptualize and contextualize the information I found. This way, I was able to withdraw the information and choose the sources that would be most valuable to teachers and students in their studies.

John F. Kennedy once said, “For a true historian – and for the true student of history – history is an end in itself. It fulfills a deep human need for understanding; the satisfaction it provides requires no further justification.” When done the right way, museums and classrooms are places where history can come alive and students can actively interact with the past. As a future educator, I want my students to understand that the discipline is more than just rote memorization of facts and dates. I hope they will recognize history’s relevance in their lives and the transferable nature of its skills. Most importantly, I want them to respect the subject because history promotes discovery and reflection, and an understanding of the subject allows us to unlock the true value in its study, the ability to bring meaning to our lives.

If you’re in the downtown Grand Rapids area, be sure to check out the newly renovated Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the Devos Learning Center.

It’s Fulbright Season!

By Janis Gibbs

February can be a challenge for faculty, as well as for students.  The holidays are over, winter is gray, and spring break seems a long way off.  There is one thing about February, though, that always brings me a new sense of energy.  It’s Fulbright season.  In February, students who are interested in applying for a Fulbright scholarship begin their journey toward their futures.

Fulbright Scholarships are part of a program funded by the U.S. State Department.  The program has many elements, but the one that matters to Hope students is the U.S. Student Program, which sends recent graduates abroad for a year, to teach English, or to conduct research or a program of study in their academic areas of interest.  The program is national and competitive, but Hope students have a history of doing well in the competition.  Most students start in the spring of their junior year, choosing their potential host country and figuring out whether they want to teach, research, or study.  Seniors sometimes start the program in the spring, but need to wait a year after graduation before their grants are awarded.  We also work with Hope alumni who want to apply after having been out of college for a few years.

There are three things I like best about Fulbright season.  The first is the sense of infinite possibility.  Students have all kinds of dreams about what they might do.  A student of German decided to apply to teach English in Korea in order to expand her horizons.  A student who had studied abroad in Cameroon devised a research project to take her back to Cameroon to study beekeeping. Another student, when faced with the lack of English teaching opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa, switched her interests to Nepal, and won an English teaching assistantship there.  What will this year’s students choose to do?

The second thing I like about Fulbright season is getting to know the applicants.  Fulbright advising is a mixture of listening, asking questions, and editing.  The applications require two short essays, and they are difficult to write.  Applicants must compose essays that capture the essence of their personality, their preparation and their potential.  All students have interesting stories and wonderful aspirations.  It is difficult to articulate them, though, and sometimes we need to spend time talking about what is important to students, and about how they envision their futures.  Sometimes, the most compelling stories emerge from the details of other stories.  The first story we tell about ourselves is not always the most illuminating one, but it can be a gateway to an important and revealing narrative. Students need to tell stories that show themselves interacting with other people, and learning about themselves in the process.  It is a privilege to be part of the students’ process of self-discovery.

The third big reward of Fulbright season is observing the hard work and the growth of the applicants.  They work very hard during the spring semester, and then continue to work on their applications over the summer.  Most students revise their essays ten or more times.  By they time they return to campus in the fall, they will have written applications that are ready to submit for nationally-competitive scholarships.  During this process, students learn about writing, about persuasion, and about their own values.  I am always inspired by the achievements and the growth of the applicants by the end of the application process.

Of course, as happy as Fulbright season makes me in February, I still look forward to April and May, when we will find out the results of the applications that students started last February. I have my fingers crossed for them, and I will be ready to cheer, both for those who eventually receive Fulbright scholarships, and for those who do not.  We have very high hopes.  Since 2004, thirty-one Hope College students have won and have accepted Fulbright scholarships.  We are always looking for new candidates.  If you are a current Hope student or an alumnus/a, you could be one of them. It’s February—time to start for next fall’s application deadline.   If you are interested, please contact me (gibbs@hope.edu) or Professor Cunningham (cunningham@hope.edu) right away.  It’s not too late, if you start now.  Who knows where you’ll end up?  It’s a big world.  And send me a postcard when you go—I’ll put it on my door to remember you by.