Today we’re happy to share the story of Joylynn (Corum) Israel ’07, a History/Social Studies Education major who earned her master’s degree in social work (MSW) from the University of Minnesota and now serves as a therapist at a mental health clinic.
Joylynn, you majored in History and Social Studies Education while at Bethel. How did you become interested in history, and who or what inspired you to want to teach it?
I think it is part temperament and part environment, as are a lot of things. I have always been drawn to stories. As a little girl, I’d make up elaborate “back stories” for the dolls I was playing with. My father read history books and conveyed wonder and awe when talking about how our world presently was intricately interwoven by the choices, connections, and chances of the past.
A very poignant memory of mine in my school age years occurred with my eighth grade ULE teacher, when she shared her photos of a trip to Auschwitz concentration camp. I remember feeling this strong mix of horror and fascination. My teacher ended the lesson by saying something that has stuck with me, “If we do not remember our past, we are doomed to repeat it.” At that point, I started to embrace history as more than knowing and enjoying the story, I took on that it is my responsibility to know the events in the past to help guide a more promising and bright future. Naturally, part of that responsibility is to foster awe, wonder, and care in the next generation.
It can be challenging to find time to study abroad (especially for Education majors), but you had a couple of experiences outside of the United States. What stands out in your recollection about your time in England and Hong Kong? Would you recommend that our students — including Social Studies Ed majors — find a way to spend part of their college careers studying abroad?
My undergraduate experience was a defining time in my life. When people ask me to pick from all the highlights or ask what I do not regret, it is always that I spent time abroad.
My world opened up and I view living abroad as a way of practicing my craft. A medical student learns first from a book and then does a medical procedure. A historian, or social studies specialist, learns about the events and then immerses himself or herself in the environment that produced the story. It’s beyond seeing the monuments. Often, the monuments began to blur together to be honest. For me, the scenery, the vibe, the native perspective, and active participation brought me to a new level of understanding of my world and myself. I remember hiking in a green layered with more green forest in Ireland and believing in the faeries that stole the child that Yeats wrote about. I remember walking on Omaha beach in Normandy knowing that my feet tread safely on the sand once soaked with blood, terror, and fierce mission. You can feel it.
In China, we visited an orphanage filled with female children, children with deformities and disabilities, and those from the poorest of the poor. Some of them could speak English but many didn’t have the capacity or knowledge to do so. Yet, here we were laughing, investing, enjoying, cuddling, and playing with each other. I realized how incredibly human I was in that moment and humanity cannot be fully realized without connection. I was vulnerable and filled with gratitude for my life. I held an infant baby that day that spent most of her days lying in a crib because there was not enough staff to hold them all. I repeatedly whispered in her ear, you are so loved. It’s a drop in a bucket in her life journey and probably made no real difference. And yet, history is full of drop in the bucket moments that changed our lives forever.
I recommend all students spend time abroad as a part of their education, especially those intending to be the champions and curators of our histories.
I spent some time teaching in non-traditional roles with AmeriCorps and as a behavior specialist in my home city after graduating. I found myself wanting to go deeper into the personal stories of my students than time or the role allows when teaching. I worked with diverse students, most experiencing trauma before high school and living in poverty, and I felt a sense of angst about it all. Teaching in the classroom didn’t seem to fit me anymore and I took some time off to figure out what would fit better. I traveled and worked abroad in Australia. One job I had was being an au pair for a family whose mother was dying from terminal cancer. It was during that year of crossing through grief with three young boys and their father in the most intimate setting possible, their home, that I realized I wanted to go back to get my Master of Social Work.
Were you somewhat unusual among your grad student peers in that you had majored in a humanities field like History, rather than Social Work itself? Did you feel well prepared for your MSW program?
I was not unusual at all for majoring in a humanities field in my undergraduate work before going through my MSW program. I was envious that those that had an undergraduate degree in social work were able to get their MSW in one year, as opposed to my two, but that was the only benefit I encountered. The majority of people I went to school with at the University of Minnesota came from diverse degree routes.
I felt prepared and successful throughout my time at the U of M. Social Work is the profession of aligning with others to accomplish a goal collaboratively, and there is a lot of crossover in knowledge, concepts, and practice with humanity fields.
Tell us a bit about your current job. Do you see any connections between that work and your undergraduate studies in History?
I currently work as a group and individual therapist at a mental health clinic. Again, I am working with stories. This time, the stories are personal histories, which of course developed within the context of community history. My work is to help others understand and analyze their stories so that they can open themselves up to all the possible paths forward. I am a historian, meaning maker, and teacher with my clients, amongst other roles.
My eighth grade teacher’s words still ring true: “If we do not remember the past, then we are doomed to repeat it.” It’s from accepting our past that we have the opportunity to change our present.