Alumni Feature: Samantha L. Miller, Ph.D.

Samantha L. Miller, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity Anderson University, Anderson, IN

After Jeff Tyler’s History of Christianity class, the two courses I am most grateful for in all of my education are Janis Gibbs’s HIST 140 and Marc Baer’s HIST 400, the history major’s introductory and capstone classes, respectively. It was in these classes that I learned the art of research, which served as a foundation for all of the work to come. The classes in between the those two and all the varied experiences and opportunities I had as a history major together formed me as a historian.

I went on from Hope to get my M.Div. at Duke Divinity School and then my Ph.D. in historical theology from Marquette University. Now I teach church history and spiritual formation at Anderson University in Indiana. At every stage, I have been grateful for the formation I received as a Hope College history major.

The classes I took taught me how to research, to write, and to think. All of these skills were essential in graduate school, but the one that graduate school spent little time teaching was research. I was expected to know how to find sources and decide which were worth using. Professors assumed that I knew primary sources from secondary and the purpose of each. Assignments often had few instructions beyond, “15-20 pages, due on December 1.” I was expected to know how to take a paper from idea to final draft. Thanks to the work of Hope’s history faculty, I did.

Dr. Milller’s first graduation at Anderson University

Beyond research as the fundamental skill for papers—then a dissertation, and now conference presentations, articles, and books—the way Hope faculty taught me to research was empowering. They gave me steps to follow but trusted that I would do them and had high expectations. They taught me to do for myself and to try solving problems on my own. I was learning to think and work out the issues in my arguments; professors encouraged me to follow my curiosity. Now I use those same methods and stages of the intro and capstone classes (the annotated bibliographies, outlines, drafts, etc.) as I teach my own students to research in a History of Biblical Interpretation course.

In classes, I learned to speak up and have a voice because the history faculty knew how important discussion was for learning. I tested my ideas and learned to disagree respectfully with classmates. I learned that I was not always going to be the smartest person in the room; that formed humility as well as opened me to learn from classmates. In graduate school, I understood the value of listening to those with whom I disagreed, and now I require such discussions of my own students. (It’s also a skill and a posture much required in faculty meetings).

More than any class or any particular assignment or set of academic skills, however, I am grateful to my professors. They did the most work in preparing me to be a professor myself, and they did it by example. As they invited me into their offices and often their homes, as they worked alongside me on a research project, as they listened to my life and even prayed for me, I thought, “That’s the kind of professor I want to be.” And now as I sit across from students in my own office or as I make decisions about how to be fair in the classroom, I think about what Marc Baer or Janis Gibbs or Jeanine Petit would have done with me. I didn’t just come out of the Hope history department with a degree or with better research skills. I came out a well-rounded human being ready to serve.

Alumni Feature: A Hedge-Fund Lawyer Explains Why You Should Major in History

David Charnin, Class of 1996

“I’m interested in business and finance, so why should I major in history?” or, more bluntly, “Business is about buying and selling things, not writing term papers, so why should I study history?”  I asked myself these same questions before I became a history major, and, today I am an in-house lawyer for a private equity and hedge fund firm.

Answering these questions requires looking at their two parts: first, understanding what it means to be a business person, and second, understanding what it means to study history at Hope–and then seeing the strong relationship between them.  At its core, business is about human interaction: the art of buying and selling goods and services. Of course, numeracy is quite important.  The art of business, however, is not merely about numbers on an Excel spreadsheet (no disrespect to Excel).  Rather, it is about marshaling a team of people to achieve profit in buying from or selling to other people.  Human relationships and communication about ideas, solutions (products and services) and the value proposition of those solutions are key.  There are also whole ecosystems that support the sales organs of business: research and development, marketing, accounting, law, treasury, information technology, and human resources, just to name a few.  History is a gateway to success in business because it focuses one’s thinking and communication and, most importantly, will teach you how to teach yourself new things so that new situations present opportunities and not obstacles.  Let’s take a closer look at business and see the connections between it and the study of history.

First, a successful business career requires the ability to communicate clearly.  Email is the common carrier of written business ideas, and communicating concepts like product value, pricing, quantity, delivery date, and charges, etc. demands clarity of communication.  More than one million dollar deal has been fouled up because the salespeople were talking past each other and the email traffic was unclear as to what the parties really agreed to.  Studying history at Hope College will demand discipline in thought and precision in communication.  With your professors as your guides and classmates as co-venturers, you will learn to refine your ideas in presentations and writing and will learn to engage your colleagues’ ideas with care and candor.  This is exactly the skill set you will need to employ to engage and persuade your colleagues and customers in business, each of whom will have their own ideas about strategy (in the case of colleagues) and value (in the case of customers).

Successful businesses also require leaders who are critical thinkers and can develop a sound strategy and express their ideas in the spoken word.  Developing sound strategy requires clarity of thought while absorbing information from many sources–from colleagues, the media, the Intranet, trade publications and macroeconomic forces–to draw your own conclusions that may make or break your business.  The study of history will give you a framework to sift the wheat from the chaff in the marketplace of ideas.  You will learn which ideas have staying power and which do not.  You will learn to persuade with your speaking in the classroom setting, and you will engage with the ideas of the past that have persuaded others (and perhaps you).  Employing these skills with customers will give you an edge in today’s sales environment where selling a product requires persuading your customer of the value of your product, not just its price.   You may be selling a product, a service, or your idea about how to solve a problem.  Or, you may be evaluating someone else’s pitch to a solution.  By studying history, you will also learn to see the mistakes and failures of others by reading about actions and words and their consequences–without having to make them yourself.  Understanding your customers and your product’s value will permit you to see possible solutions and chart the right strategic course amid the challenges that will face you daily in business.

Lastly, a history degree will reward you with the confidence to make sound decisions for yourself, and the skepticism not to fall in love with your own ideas.  The critical thinking skills of analysis will also permit you to teach yourself how to engage and learn new ideas, a crucial skill in today’s fast-paced, changing workforce.