Alumni Feature: How to Answer “What are You Going to Do with That?”

Madalyn Muncy-Piens, Class of 2013, Marketing Specialist for WSM International

If you are a student of history or simply the humanities in general, you get asked the following question A LOT: “So, what are you going to do with that? Teach?”

I’m pretty sure if I had a dollar for every time I was asked that about my studies in English and history, I would be wealthy by the grace of compound interest. I’m sure you would too.

I’m here to tell you that I’m a living, breathing case study of a humanities major who succeeded in heading straight into the corporate world and did not make a stop to graduate school (yet). I have a house and a dog and a retirement account. I’m doing just fine, without a “practical” college degree.

The condescension of that terrible “what-are-you-going-to-do-with-that” question plagued me all through college, and now when I think back, I could have spared myself anxiety over thoughts of myself as a starving artist, or worse — gasp — back working in retail forever if I had met people who had indeed skipped the graduate school route, made a way for themselves in the working world, and also fit my standard of a functioning adult.

So, what will you do with that history major or minor? Or any humanities major or minor for that matter?

You will write well.
Do not underestimate the power of good writing. Seriously. Most of what happens in the work world is now done through the written word. No, it’s not 50-page research papers. It’s email or instant message or blog posts. Being able to clearly communicate is an invaluable skill and you’ll have it.

You will be able to persuade.
Back to writing. I work in marketing so persuading is an important part of my job function. However, it doesn’t matter where you are in the work world, if you can persuade and influence others to take an action, to help you, to not make a terrible business decision, you are winning. Persuasion is part of constructing a thesis, and guess what? Those pesky emails or presentations are thesis statements!

You will be able to speak in front of others.
Maybe I’m biased, but I truly believe that communication is key to success in most jobs. No matter where you work or what job you do, you’ll probably have to speak in a meeting or present a case to your boss. Your training as a historian has included presentations and discussions. Now–thanks to your professors–you can walk in a little more confidently and contribute in a meaningful way.

You will have an understanding of the ramifications of an action.
History majors have amazing critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is scarcer than you realize in the workplace. And you’ll not only use it there, but also, more importantly, in your personal life. You’ll see the big picture while still understanding how everything all fits together. Being able to look to the past for clues and insight regarding the present and future is what historians are trained to do. This skill will help you reflect on your own journey and help you make decisions about where to go next. In that way, I think historians are some of the most resilient people in the world, granted they translate their academic skills to their personal and professional life.

So you may not know all the business jargon or how to write a marketing plan or how to schedule an Outlook meeting. But you’re a liberal art student, so you can learn.

In a world where everything is becoming more interdisciplinary, where everything continues to becoming more connected, we need people who can see beyond the code or beyond the robot. And that’s where you come in. Don’t think that because you aren’t training for a job right now that you can’t or shouldn’t end up working at one. We need the historians in the archive and in the classroom, of course. But we also need them to bring a set of unique perspectives and skills to other professional fields.

If anything, remember that the greatest gift of your liberal arts education is that of being a lifelong learner.  Necessary professional nonsense aside, your ability to ask good questions, to seek truth, to solve problems, and to come to your own conclusions will continue to serve you well. I’m grateful for my education being just that, an education, not training for a job. For that, my life is all the richer, and yours will be too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alumni Feature: Claire Barrett, ’15: “Do What You Love”

High Tatras, Slovakia

I grew up in a family that loved history. As a child I would attempt, in vain, to keep up with my father and older sister at dinner as they jumped from topic to topic, war to war. Tired of not contributing, I began to read. What began as an earnest desire to be part of my family’s dinner conversations became a lifelong passion. History has been and is a central point within my family. My first real conversation with my grandfather was on the topic of William Manchester’s semi-autobiographical book, Goodbye, Darkness. History not only influences the way I view the world, it is also a very real link to my family. Because of this, I grew up loving and respecting history, and in particular, military history. It enthralled me like no other subject could, and so, despite many well-meaning “what are you going to do with a history degree?” questions, I pursued a history major.

Thus, I graduated from Hope with a degree in history and then a MA in the History of War from King’s College, London. In college, I had no real clue what I wanted to do with my degree, and to be honest, I had no real idea in graduate school either. I just knew that I wanted to work in some capacity in or around the subject of history. My introverted self-delighted in the hours spent in the stacks, and in the British National Archives. Yet despite the welcome solitude, my degree path also gave me countless opportunities, from interning with the U.S. State Department in London during my time at Hope, to working with a NY Times bestselling author while at graduate school in London. A history degree can seem niche if you let it. However, as I found out, there are always places in the work force for curious, critical thinkers who know how to do serious research. My current job is a product of that.

Isle of Wight, UK

I landed my job as the associate editor for MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History and Military History magazine because of my work while in London. I am lucky that I get to engage in the material that excites me the most every single day.

Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, VA

My sister Esther Barrett Wloch (’12), another Hope College history major alum, went in the opposite path of me. She worked for several years at the University of Michigan Musical Society and now currently works for Duo, a cybersecurity firm. She is thriving, despite having no background, I mean literally zero background, in the tech world due to her strong analytical and communication skills that she sharpened from her studies of history.

To be a historian, one engages with current events with a critical eye and a deeper understanding of that history, whether it be political, social, or military. The somewhat tired and oft-repeated line by George Santayana “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” still rings true today. For, as Churchill’s biographer Manchester wrote, “history is more than a time line, more than the sequencing and parsing of collective memory.”

My father, a musician (someone who has followed his own somewhat unique path), always said to me, “Honestly Claire, do what you love, work hard at it, and it will come together.” So that is my advice, and it is simple: Do what you love, for a degree in history means to have a thorough knowledge of the past, which cultivates one’s intellect, teaching one to know how to think, not what to think. The nurturing of one’s mind is invaluable, and trust me, imminently transferable to the world of work.

Faculty Feature: Marc Baer

Picture of history professor Marc BaerHistorians don’t create information: they read what’s handed to them, or rather what they can discover that was created by people in the past. Often, one bit of information contradicts another, and the historian is forced to compare and then choose between them, or ascertain which data are the truest, or construct a narrative from the disparate, contradictory bits. Beginning with our undergraduate years, we do this over and over until what begins as a method of analysis becomes second nature to us. We use it when we engage in scholarship, but also in our lives as citizens when we read newspapers, listen to speeches or watch television news reports. The world calls it critical thinking; historians call it being a thoughtful historian.

Now, imagine yourself as head of HR in a company, or the owner of a small business, or perhaps a dean employed at a prestigious small college in the Midwest. When you’re not signing forms, most of your time is spent doing precisely what the historian does. Hence my thesis (which, by the way, probably should have appeared in the previous paragraph): the best training for someone who is an administrator is—trumpet flourish here—history!

My argument is rather simple. In any workplace setting where one is called upon to make decisions—involving two people whose stories challenge each other, or two options presented to you either of which, if implemented, will make someone angry—the historian’s method kicks in. It’s not so much that we’re perpetually skeptical—which I would argue is an unhelpful attitude—but perpetually curious, inquisitive and aware that most contexts are characterized by complexity rather than simplicity. Therefore, when we’re in this analytical moment, our minds go to, “Hmmm. I wonder.” We begin to turn things over, to step back from the context, to seek antecedents, and to compare the situation with others we have encountered in the past. Only then are we prepared to decide.

Complimenting curiosity is another attitude engendered by the historian’s habit of thinking—empathy.  This can be understood as looking out at the world through the eyes of the other person. I like this, from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” As I recall, other than in the history seminar I never explicitly encouraged students to try to be empathetic. But in an exit interview a colleague and I did with a history major he stated that’s what the history major did for him, which made me realize we had encouraged empathy without ever naming it as such.

In the year I spent as Dean for the Arts and Humanities I relied on my training as an historian almost every day on the job. I had to apply curiosity and empathy to make wise decisions. I had to read documents against each other, likewise with colleagues’ narratives. Being an historian doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get all those decisions right, but I don’t know how administrators without the training historians receive engage the problem-solving process well.

One final takeaway: I hope I’ve exploded the myth that there’s any tight linkage between major and career. Majors such as history that emphasize strong communications skills which follow on strong analytical skills which follow on strong research skills provide the best preparation for solving problems.

Majoring in history is not for the weak of heart. But neither is the world of work, or for that matter, life.

Marc Baer taught in Hope’s History department for 33 years, serving as chair for the last 6. He then served as the college’s interim Dean for Arts and Humanities for 13 months, retiring for good in June 2017.

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.

It’s Course Registration Time!

Take a look at the upper-level courses being taught by our great professors this Spring! If you have questions about them, please contact Dr. Jeanne Petit (petit@hope.edu).

History 200-01A Roman Imperial Women
T 6:30-9:20 pm
Albert Bell

In ancient Rome women could not vote or hold office, but the wives, sisters, and/or mothers of the emperors had enormous influence. We will examine the lives of women such as Livia, Agrippina, and St. Helena to see how they governed the empire from behind the throne.

 

History 200-01B: Travel with Herodotus
T 6:30-9:20 am
Albert Bell

Herodotus, known as “the father of history,” wrote an account of the wars between the Greeks and the Persians in the fifth century BC. He tells how the Persian Empire grew. Much of his work is based on his own travels around the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Some information (and misinformation) he picks up from merchants and travelers who’ve gone beyond the modern Middle East.

History 200-02B: Peace Movements in the 20th-Century U.S
MW 3:00-4:20 pm
Jeanne Petit

Most history classes emphasize the impact of wars. This class will shift the focus of United States history and examine those who tried to prevent war and ensure peace. We will do a survey of peace movements that emerged during different contexts in the 20th-century United States with particular focus on the following: the Women’s Peace Party of the World War I Era, the labor movement of the 1930s, the labor movement of the 1930s, the Civil Rights Movement that emerged in the 1950s, the Vietnam-era peace  protests, and the late 20th-century anti-nuclear movement. Note: instead of a traditional research paper, students in this class will be building a research-based website.

History 242-01: Topics in 20th-Century European History
MWF 11:00-11:50 am
Gloria Tseng

This course surveys the history of twentieth-century Europe from three chronologically overlapping vantage points. These are “the age of catastrophe,” “the age of secular ideological extremes,” and “the limits of secularism.” Implied in the organization of the course is the argument that each of these vantage points in some ways epitomizes the century. The events and developments examined in this course are chosen to reflect these concerns. In addition to mastering the main events and developments that have defined the twentieth century, an important component of the course is to reflect on current events in light of the history of the past century. In other words, we as a class will learn to “think like a historian.”

History 295-01: Russia: Peter I to the USSR
MWF 1:00-1:50 PM
Wayne Tan

Russia is, arguably, one of the most influential nations today on the global stage. With humble beginnings as fragmented principalities, it grew into a vast empire spanning Asia and Europe by the 19th century and, as the core of the Soviet Union, dominated world politics for much of the 20th century. A land of untold riches, it was also a land of enigmas and contradictions. What is Russia’s identity today? What are the origins of Russian imperial traditions and institutions? How did its literature convey the political anxieties of the centuries? How did the 1917 Revolution affect the rest of the world? Why did the Soviet Union emerge and then slowly unravel? What lessons does the story of Russia hold for the future of global diplomacy and conflict resolution? This course explores these questions by surveying Russian history from the time of Peter the Great to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and recent developments in the

History 321-01: The Making of Modern Africa
TR 3:00-4:20 PM
Lauren Janes

MMABATHO, SOUTH AFRICA: South African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela gives 15 March 1994 in Mmabatho a clenched fist to supporters upon his arrival for his first election rally for 27 April general elections. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

How did Africans end colonization on their continent and create new states in the middle of the twentieth century? Focusing on case studies of Algeria, Nigeria, and South Africa, we examine the structure and impact of modern imperialism in Africa, the process of decolonization (including peaceful and violent struggles), and the emergence of  new African states after decolonization. In this 300-level history course, students will also conduct their own research on a topic of twentieth-century African history that interests them.

History 351-01: Slavery & Race
MW 3:00-4:20 PM
Fred Johnson

From its origins as a British colonial society to its dominance as a global superpower, the United States has struggled to resolve conflicts arising from issues of race, ethnicity, and immigration. This course examines how such factors have influenced the overall development of the United States while exploring strategies for reconciling those and related challenges confronting Americans in the 21st century.

 

Having fun at commencement with Bingo!

 

 

 

 

 

By Jonathan Hagood

One of the most important goals for all students who enroll in a college or university is to graduate—and the pomp and circumstance that make up the commencement ceremony. This is an august, solemn, and weighty occasion. It can also, for those of us who attend every year, be quite boring. I’ve seen colleagues grade papers, read journals and books, catch some screen time, nap… we also share stories about students (treasured and not) and cheer on those we knew well as their names are called and they walk across the stage. Still, the gap in time between students that I know can be long. What to do both to pass the time and to stay focused…?

I started playing Commencement Bingo four years ago, and it’s now an expected and cherished tradition at my school. Here are the basics:

  • An 8-1/2” x 11” sheet of cardstock has a grid of sixty squares: the five letters in BINGO multiplied by the twelve letters in COMMENCEMENT.
  • Each square has a randomly selected first name, drawn from the most frequently occurring names in the graduating class.
  • Six of the squares are marked as a FREE SPACE.
  • I do all of this in Excel, and I randomize the squares, making 25 distinct versions of the card (it’s more fun if your neighbor’s card has a different arrangement of names).
  • A sheet of 55 stars—Avery® Assorted Foil Star Labels 6007 (http://www.avery.com/avery/en_us/Products/Labels/Identification-Labels/Foil-Star-Labels_06007.htm)—accompanies each card.
  • When a first name is read aloud, you mark the appropriate square with a star.

It’s relatively simple—and fun! My colleagues and I find that playing Commencement Bingo not only passes the time, but we also pay more attention to the names of students as they are called. In addition, I find myself reflecting on and remembering particular students whose first names I have on my sheet. For example, in the Class of 2017 one of the most frequent names is Elizabeth, and I thought about the many Elizabeths, Lizzes, Beths, etc. that I have taught both recently and over the years. Waiting for a relatively rare name can also lead to cheering from the faculty. For some reason this year it took a while for a Justin to walk across the stage, but when he did several faculty members who had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to star a Justin-square on their cards cheered. Someone next to me said, “I bet Justin’s wondering why the faculty are so happy for him.”

Over the years I’ve learned some necessary tweaks. The card originally started as a 5×5 grid, but that was not enough to last through our 700+ students. Even expanded to 5×12, many faculty finished “too soon.” So, I added the feature of having two squares with the full names of students I knew would be at the end of the ceremony. At our school, those are students graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). That way, every player has to wait until the end of Commencement to finish. This year, I realized that there is still a gap between filling out the first-name squares and waiting for the nurses. So, next year I plan to add squares for full names of students that I know will be in the last third of the ceremony (for us, students receiving Bachelor of Music or Bachelor of Science degrees). I think I might also add some open-ended, but personal squares, like “One of Your Advisees” or “Student You Knew Well.”

I have also added an element of winning prizes. Players who write their names on their cards and turn them in to me are entered into a drawing for a tote bag with swag inside. The bag is labeled “Commencement Bingo,” and my hope is that over the years it becomes a hot commodity.

Because I am a history professor, on the back of the card I provide some interesting data. I list the top 50 names for the graduating class (Class of 2017), the top 15 baby names for the years in which they were born (1994-96), the top 15 baby names for 100 years before (1884-86)—I don’t see a lot of Franks or Ethels in my classrooms these days, and the top 15 baby names for last year (the Class of 2038?). I also included an article from our student newspaper re: the graduating class of 1917: “Seniors on Wild Rampage of Festivities: Celebrate With Two Parties In Last Week of School” (http://digitalcommons.hope.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=anchor_1917). I’m not sure as many of my colleagues enjoy this side of the card as much I do, and so next year I think I might add a Commencement Crossword Puzzle. Lots of opportunities there.

Does playing bingo take away from the augustness, solemnity, and weight of the commencement ceremony? I don’t think so. I hope not. There are certainly folks who decline to play, but I’ve yet to hear anything negative from administrators above my pay grade—in fact, more than one of them have given me positive feedback. One of my colleagues told me that she shared knowledge of this faculty “tradition” with her students and reported that they all thought it was great fun. That said, I am sensitive to folks who might think otherwise. I know of at least one colleague who has told me that she doesn’t think it is appropriate and therefore does not participate. Returning to where I started, I’d like to think that it helps me to focus and think about the students. I would also argue that playing bingo honors the students and the occasion more than does grading papers, reading, checking social media, or napping. If anything, Commencement Bingo contributes to the merriment and celebration that should rightly accompany the gravity of the situation. Yes, our students have accomplished much, and this is a serious moment. It is also a time to smile, laugh, clap, and cheer.

Bingo!

Student Feature: Joseph Williams

 

 

 

 

 

When I tell most people what I plan on doing for my gap year before law school, they get confused. Then, I tell them I’m a history major, and they get even more confused. Following graduation, I plan on playing professional handball in Europe. Most history majors share my desire for adventure, and thanks to Hope College, we are equipped to pursue whatever adventure we can dream of. I hope by sharing my story, more history majors will feel emboldened to take the road less traveled and seek adventure wherever they can find it.

I first saw team handball in the 2012 Olympics and knew that it was something I wanted to try. For those who aren’t familiar with the sport, it’s not the handball you’ll find at the YMCA. The goal of the game is to put the volleyball-sized ball into a small soccer net located at each end of a basketball-sized court. Each team has six players plus a goalkeeper (my position.. I hate running), and players move the ball by dribbling and passing. The sport is almost non-existent in the United States, but it is the second most popular European sport, which is where the best professional handball opportunities are. Since first seeing the game in 2012, I have been selected to the Junior Men’s National team three times, and have competed and trained in places like Croatia, Sweden, and Paraguay. Thanks to Hope College, I have been able to chase this dream, and many others, from playing NCAA lacrosse to being challenged as a student-athlete to joining the best fraternity in America (Rush OKE).

There are many reasons why being a history major has helped me during my handball career. History majors have an uncanny ability to take many primary source materials and interpret them. This allows me to observe games at an analytical level that is beyond the understanding of my opponents, which is a big asset as a goalie. As both a history major and an aspiring professional athlete, I have to work diligently towards a deadline, whether it be game day preparations or typing a 20-page research paper. Most importantly, both handball and history allow me to experience people and places that I otherwise wouldn’t. While studying history, I have been able to experience places from colonial Africa to pre-Brexit Britain, and have met some fantastic mentors like Professor Baer and Professor Tseng. Playing handball has given me the chance to be the face of the United States to people who would otherwise never encounter an American. Thanks to handball, I have been able to make friends and meet coaches from countries like Malta, Finland, Bosnia, and Chile. I have also been able to experience some interesting things, like being woken up by gunfire outside the hotel 3/4 nights in Paraguay. At the heart of every history major is a desire to experience this beautiful world from various perspectives, and handball lets me do that.

 

Alumni Feature: “What on earth would I do with a history major?”

 

 

 

 

 

By Jessica Patrick Majerowicz ’04

I arrived at Hope College with no idea what I wanted to do.  I enjoyed history but had not considered pursing it as a career.  As soon as classes began I was surrounded by the history department in some form or another; Professor Baer was my advisor/freshman seminar professor and I had ancient civilizations with Professor Cohen.  One day Professor Cohen pulled me aside and asked if I had ever considered pursuing a history major. I was surprised and said that no I hadn’t.  He said I should. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. But then the obvious question came up, what on earth would I do with a history major?  I figured I had two choices: teach or live in a cardboard box.  I was a little nervous about teaching- most people I knew who wanted to teach had been dreaming about it since they were little and that was definitely not me!

To make this work I knew I needed to teach high school or college. One of my favorite things about history is it is not black and white, but nuanced and downright messy.  It teaches us how to think critically and challenge commonly held beliefs.  I wanted to teach students old enough to really grapple with some of its complex questions. There is also the issue that I am very sarcastic and was afraid I would make kids under the age of 14 cry.

After student teaching, I knew I was in the right place.  High schoolers are so fun; they are trying to figure out how to be adults but are still kind of goofy.  It’s not always easy but there is nothing more rewarding than when a student finally understands a concept or simply figures out that hard work translates to success.  I always thought I’d only want to teach AP kids, but was surprised to discover I liked teaching students with disabilities just as much.

I’ve also had some really unique opportunities as a teacher.  While spending a semester at the University of Aberdeen my junior year, I was bit hard by the travel bug and a few years after graduation I was hit with a desperate need to get out of the country.  Unfortunately, the downside to teaching is that it’s not the most lucrative field and travel is expensive.  Luckily I discovered a company that did tours for students and decided to give it a try.  It’s fantastic! Traveling with students is amazing- getting to watch them experience firsthand what they learned in school is the ultimate teacher/history nerd high. I’ve done four tours with students- one to Greece and China and two to Italy (and I’m taking another group back to Italy this summer).

One of the things I’m most proud of is the creation of a new elective. After I finished my master’s degree in global history I decided it was time to put my new skills to use by creating my dream class. I proposed a women’s history/studies elective to our school board and it was unanimously approved. It has run for three straight years and keeps getting bigger every year. I run it as a seminar/project based course where we go through the basics of women in world and U.S. history and tie it into modern women’s issues.  I’m very passionate about women’s issues worldwide and this course gives me the opportunity to make my students more aware.  They are continually shocked by the human rights abuses women still face in the modern world and want to help change things.  To encourage my students to think about how they could create real change in the world they create a hypothetical organization to combat a particular issue for their final project.  They do a fantastic job and I have no doubt that some of my students will actually turn their project into something real in the future.

I never pictured myself as a teacher but it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.  So if you are thinking about pursuing teaching with your history degree but don’t feel like you fit the profile of a typical teacher, never fear. There is no one right way to be a teacher and you may just find your own uniqueness is just what future students need to succeed.

Seeing is Appreciating: An Ai Weiwei Exhibit in West Michigan

 

 

 

 

By Gloria Tseng

Ai Weiwei is not a neutral figure. His work is intentionally provocative. He has bucked the authority of the Chinese government and the power at the disposal of an authoritarian regime, having suffered physical abuse during a stint in prison and personally witnessed the government-ordered destruction of one of his studios. In short, Ai’s international renown is inseparable from his reputation as a political dissident.

Having read about the artist, his political activism, and the wide range of media in which he works, I had an ambivalent opinion of Ai and his work. I admired his courage but did not appreciate his angry, intentional, and at times crude provocations. His is a needed voice—I reluctantly acknowledged—but I wondered if I would find beauty in his work. Thus, when I first learned that Ai’s work would be exhibited at Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, I was thrilled. What a treat it would be to see the exhibit with students who are taking my Modern China class this semester! Off we went on a rainy Tuesday evening in February, joined by Professor Steve Smith from the Department of Economics and Business and Mrs. Smith.

Seeing his work in person gave me a newfound appreciation of Ai as an artist. His versatility—mastery of both traditional art forms and digital media, as well as many genres in between—is even greater than what I previously read about him. Seeing the actual artworks, and not merely pictures of them, brought the man’s creative gifts to the fore. The visual arts “speak” eloquently where words fail.

One of my favorite installations at the exhibit was a pile of ceramic river crabs—each one skillfully crafted, inviting the viewer to a feast of sorts. River crabs are a treat in Chinese cuisine. Ai invited his fans in November 2010 to a party featuring river crabs upon learning that the authorities of Shanghai were going to demolish his newly built studio in a village near Shanghai. The destruction of the studio occurred in January 2011. The crabs, long digested by now, were an “eat-and-tell” commentary on the Chinese government’s motto of promoting social “harmony”—héxié—which sounds almost the same as river crabs—héxiè. The ceramic ones, of course, continue to “speak” in protest against the arbitrary powers of the Chinese state wherever they are exhibited.

As for Ai, he continues to speak through his art, offering provocative and thought-provoking reflections not only on conditions in his native China but also on issues faced by our global world. One of his upcoming exhibits, entitled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” will open in New York City in October. Ai will build more than 100 fences and installations across several boroughs of the quintessential American metropolis. Is anyone interested in going to New York this fall?