Why It’s Okay to Be Undecided about Your College Major

Historically, about half of the History majors and minors at Bethel choose that path in their second year or later. So we want to echo the words of Bethel student Katie Johnson, who wrote an open letter this week to incoming students who feel pressured to declare a major as soon as possible:

Some people emerge from the womb and know they want to be doctors. Or writers. Or computer engineers. Or vigilantes who clean up the streets without permission of the law. Who knows. However, if you aren’t one of those people, feel free to envy their easy choices, but don’t be too hard on yourself. You have time to choose your major, even after you move into your new and shiny school and survive welcome week….

You will not be bound forever by your choices regarding your major. Or school. Or your friends even. You may even surprise yourself as you discover what you’re good at or most invested in. And that’s exciting.

In fact, Bethel has officially replaced “Undecided” as an alternative to particular majors with the “Exploratory” category, which better captures the spirit of the first year of college. Developmentally, it’s a time that’s meant to encourage self-discovery as you encounter diverse people, perspectives, and opportunities and learn to listen for God’s call on your life.

Some of Bethel's majors
Click this picture for a full list of majors and minors at Bethel

Katie, who ended up choosing an English major, adds that entering Bethel as an Exploratory major is especially well suited to our liberal arts curriculum. Rather than viewing every course choice as a zero-sum set of options leading to narrow professional pathways, you’re liberated to enjoy studying everything from the natural sciences and fine arts to Western civ courses like Christianity and Western Culture and Western Humanity in Christian Perspective and gen ed surveys like American Civilization and History of Islam.

Read Katie’s full post here. And watch this short video, featuring students who came to Bethel not knowing their major.

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Alumni Teaching Roundtable: Picking a Major (or Two)

One of the historic strengths of our department has been preparing middle and high school social studies teachers — both through the multidisciplinary Social Studies Ed 5-12 major that we coordinate with the Education department and through our own History programs. (Here’s a current map of teaching placements.) To get an inside view of that kind of career, we asked five recent grads teaching in middle and high schools (urban, rural, and suburban) to reflect on their time at Bethel and their path to the classroom. This is the first in a three-part series.

Why did you major in Social Studies Education 5-12? Is that what you planned to do when you came to Bethel?

Micayla Moore ’16 (Minnetonka Middle School West – Excelsior, MN): I came into Bethel planning on the Social Studies Ed major, but I always say I finished my teaching degree for different reasons than I started it. My mom was a social studies teacher and I had always loved the subject and teaching others. (They had me pegged when my classmates voted me most likely to return to Hutchinson High School as a teacher.) But I really decided to stick with social studies ed when I realized, around my sophomore year, the impact of education as a vehicle for social change. I saw the power that solid education and good teachers can have in improving individual lives, families, and communities.

Kelly Van Wyk ’15 (MOC-Floyd Valley Community Schools – Alton, IA): When I first came to Bethel, I definitely had not planned on majoring in education, but the Lord has a sense of humor. When psychology and sociology proved to be ill-fitting, I switched to history simply because I had always loved the material and figured that it would be at least an interesting use of my time. Eventually, I picked up a few education courses to try out the major and after my first few field experiences with middle schoolers, my course was set.

Daniel Rimmereid ’15 (Franklin Middle School – Minneapolis, MN): Halfway through my college experience I realized that I cared deeply about education and believed in its power to impact and effect change. I also loved the humanities and wanted to continue talking about them with students and passing that love onto them.

For those of you who have worked in middle schools… what drew you to that age?
Kelly Van Wyk teaching
In addition to teaching 6th grade social studies and 8th grade American history, Kelly coaches high school volleyball and softball

KVW: The students were what hooked me. One of my passions is mentoring youth and the fact that middle level education is all about developing the whole person showed me that I absolutely love working with middle-schoolers. Many of my field experiences were with middle schoolers and I always enjoyed their enthusiasm and genuineness. Most high schoolers develop an edge and guardedness which makes them really skeptical of anything “over the top” in their book. My sixth-graders look at something that is “over the top” (e.g. dunking their social studies teacher in a dunk tank) and still think it’s socially acceptable to enjoy it. Emphatically.

MM: I always saw myself in a high school setting. I remember distinctly praying in my Intro to Education course, “Lord, please don’t send me to a middle school” for my placement, and I of course went to middle schools for every placement until student teaching. So I didn’t see myself in middle school, but I slowly warmed up to the idea. Now, I enjoy it and see it as a great fit for my personality and life stage.

Zach Haskins ’14 (Shakopee High School – Shakopee, MN): I taught middle school the first two years out of college. The funny part is that while at Bethel I told myself I would never teach at a middle school. However, I really enjoyed teaching middle school students. You should think about teaching middle school if you are quirky and like to nerd out about history stuff in class. Middle school students have an appreciation for quirkiness and they can be more enthusiastic than high schoolers about things they learn. Yes, they do have more energy, but when it is channeled the right way it can make for an awesome job.

MM: You should think about teaching middle school if you’re energetic, creative, and like a challenge.

DR: You should think about teaching middle school if you want to laugh everyday, have a thick skin, and are really sarcastic. They are funny and you will be very entertained. I am also frequently blown away by how they think about the world and how smart they are. I did not expect it, but enjoy parts of it.

All of you added a second major in History. What’s proven to be the most important benefit of double-majoring? Why should Social Studies Ed students do the extra work to complete the History major?

Joe Held ’13 (Centennial High School – Lino Lakes, MN): I have had colleagues who teach history and only had one or two intro-level courses in college. By majoring in history you are building your content repertoire. This will be beneficial to your students and you will need to spend less time relearning things when you get hired.

ZH: A major in history sets a social studies teacher up well to be knowledgeable in their content areas. In my first year at Shakopee High School I was assigned to teach AP US History, which is a tough course to teach. I felt much more comfortable because I had taken 21 credits worth of US History courses during my time at Bethel. If you are just a Social Studies Education major you get introduced to the various topics in social studies, but you will not dive in to the topics as much as you will when you have that second major. It also was a big help when I took the MTLE tests that allow graduates to get their teaching licenses. The MTLE tests that focus on content are difficult to pass, but the History major definitely made it more manageable. I would definitely encourage anyone to double major because it is not take that many more credits and it will help you to stand out when applying to jobs.

Micayla Moore
Micayla teaches Spanish immersion social studies at Minnetonka Middle School West

MM: The reading, writing, and research skills I learned in my history major, as well as the added content knowledge of U.S. history, have proven to be invaluable in my work as a teacher. I am a better investigator of sources and quality curriculum to use in my class. I am a better reading and writing coach. I am better at facilitating critical conversation around history and students’ perceptions.

KVW: My history major was invaluable. I honestly believe I would not be able to do my job without the critical thinking skills I fostered through studying history. Abilities such as recognizing various historical perspectives, wrestling with complexity on issues you wish were black and white, close-reading strategies of various sources, and taking informed action based on textual evidence (just to name a few) are all skills that serve me as an educator; especially now that Iowa has just recently re-written our social studies standards at all levels with an emphasis on these very skills.

JH: More importantly, majoring in History makes you more marketable. If you are applying for a Global Politics or World History position, schools are far more excited about an applicant who can say they took numerous courses on Middle East/Islamic history. It sets you apart from other candidates.

ZH: Definitely get a second major (like History) to make yourself more marketable in the job search.

JH: But for my part, the most beneficial aspect of majoring in History was in shaping my perception of the importance of history. Teaching is so much more than conveying information. It is about igniting an interest in learning itself. My History major, more than anything else, taught me that history gives you power to understand how world events were, are, and will be connected.

MM: Most importantly, my history degree informed my worldview and helped me realize the importance of considering historical narratives and using a variety of sources and perspectives when studying history. These two concepts are fundamental in each course that I teach.

KVW: Not only does this education benefit me professionally, but also on a more personal level. I feel like studying history has equipped me to be a better American citizen, a better informed contributor to the community in which I live, and a more studious Christian. Yes, I would definitely major in both history and social studies education again in a heartbeat.

Read part two>>

From AC 2nd to… The Principal’s Office

BB:DL
Bart Becker ’01 and Dave Lutz ’07 have utilized their Social Studies Secondary Education and History double-majors as principals at Maple Grove Senior High and Mankato West High School.

As many of us already know, quite a few history majors end up working in education (about 25% in elementary or secondary education and 13% in higher education.) However, that doesn’t just mean teaching: several of our history alumni are currently serving as school administrators. Today, Dave Lutz ’07 and Bart Becker ’01 tell us about their work as the principals of Mankato West High School and Maple Grove Senior High, respectively.

What interested you in majoring in history at Bethel? Were you planning on working in education at that point? If not, what got you interested in that field?

BB: I had always loved history as a student. I was moved by the human stories, the heroes and villains, the triumphs and tragedies, transformational events and their causes, along with the effects and how lessons from the past can be applied to today. My interest in Bethel’s history program was via my desire to play football there. As a Montana native, I had never heard of Bethel or its strong academic programs. Upon visiting with Coach [Steve] Johnson and researching about the immense educational opportunity that would be offered, I was all in.

DL: My initial interest in Bethel was connected to my faith and my family. Both of my siblings and much of my extended family attended Bethel. Initially, I was interested in a medical path, but changed directions at the end of my freshman year to earn a double-major in History and Social Studies Secondary Education. My older brother is a social studies teacher in Hastings, and history has always been an area of interest for me.

BB: I was interested in working in education from the start. I knew I wanted to teach and work with high school students, so I pursued a double-major in Social Studies Secondary Education, and History. And I was very fortunate to have G.W. Carlson as my advisor, along with the experience of taking several of his courses. He is among the most influential mentors in my life.

How did you end up with your current position?

DL: After finishing my undergrad at Bethel, I landed a teaching job in Wayzata. I taught social studies for 5 years, primarily at the middle level, then shifted roles to become a gifted and talented program coordinator for 2 more. In that time I also coached football. While teaching, I completed my master’s degree in education through St. Mary’s University. As a gifted and talented coordinator, I got my first close look at educational leadership and quickly realized that my gifts and interests were leading me towards administration. I completed my principal licensure program through St. Mary’s and shortly after accepted a job as assistant principal at Mankato East High School. After one year at East, I accepted the position of principal at Mankato West High School, where I am currently.

BB: In my final semester at Bethel (the fall of 2000), I student-taught at Fridley High School. I was then hired to teach social studies full-time for the third and fourth quarters of the 2000-01 school year at Fridley, which was a wonderful experience. In August of 2001, I accepted a teaching and coaching position at Maple Grove Senior High, where I taught primarily U.S. and World History. I earned my Master’s degree in 2004 from St. Mary’s University; they had a cohort program within our district which was very convenient. In the summer of 2008, I chose to pursue my administrative licensure through Bethel’s Ed.D. program. I moved into an administrative role as a Behavior Intervention Teacher after spring break of 2009, a position in which I remained until the end of the 2010-11 school year. I completed my K-12 Principal’s Licensure and was offered the position of Assistant Principal at Park Center Senior High. While in the same school district (Osseo Area Schools – ISD 279), it offered a completely different experience, which was highly challenging and rewarding. I earned my Educational Doctorate in April 2014, and in March of 2015 I was offered the position of Principal of Maple Grove Senior High, which I officially began on July 1. It has been quite a ride!

What about studying history at Bethel prepared you for your career?

BB: Bethel’s history program, and its professors, inspired in me a lifelong desire to learn and pursue knowledge. It greatly helped me approach a situation or an event with an open mind and a commitment to take the necessary steps to learn the context and gather differing perspectives. On a technical level, I learned how to research and formulate a thesis with a strong basis of evidence. While I may not physically type up papers in my current role, the practice of approaching a problem, pursuing knowledge about the various elements, gathering multiple perspectives and data to support, and then leading a collaborative effort to problem-solve is without question rooted in my experience at Bethel.

DL: There are several skills/takeaways from my experience as a history major that I still draw upon in my current role:

  • A love for reading: While some put the books down after finishing college, my experience at Bethel helped foster a love for academic reading. As a leader, I take pride in the ability to offer alternative perspectives and draw upon the work of others as I look to support staff and provide organizational direction.
  • Writing: Whether crafting a bulletin, completing a staff evaluation, or submitting an educational grant, I left Bethel a solid academic writer. Again, I attribute much of this to the ample “practice” I received as a history major.
  • Research-based decision making: While my familiarity with action research and literature reviews supported my graduate school pursuits directly, my experiences as a history student gave me an appreciation for research early in my career. In the world of education (and beyond) there are endless initiatives, programs, and models to choose from, and a firm understanding of the importance of data and research in decision-making has served me well.
  • Global perspective: Time spent studying Chinese politics and ancient civilizations was definitely not a waste. I gained a global perspective that still serves me today.

BB: In general, one cannot go wrong with a strong background of history. It is so beneficial in countless ways! One example – having any sense of the historical background of my students from Southeast Asia (Hmong, Lao and Vietnamese) or East/West Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, or Sierra Leone) has been of huge significance in building relationships with them and their families. The bond that is formed when a student and/or family realizes you know a part of their cultural story is priceless

Do you find that many of your colleagues majored in history or similar fields? Are there many teachers that majored in a liberal art rather than education for their undergraduate studies?

DL: School administrators come from all walks. While most have a background in teaching, some have backgrounds in counseling or other related fields. I have always encouraged education majors to specialize in an area, pick up a specialist certification, or aim for an additional minor/major. Applicant pools for great jobs are large and I believe my double-major helped set me apart from the crowd.

BB: It is common for social studies teachers to have a History major to accompany their social studies education degree. I am unable to give a specific number, though. I’d say it is less common for educational leaders to have History degrees, only because any licensed teacher can pursue a K-12 Principal’s License. Among principals and assistant principals that I’ve worked with, the following majors were earned in their undergraduate studies: counseling, social studies (four); physical education, Spanish (two); English (two); music, and business.

What is your favorite part of your job? What can be particularly challenging?

BB: There’s so much to enjoy… My favorite part of my job is interacting with our students. Kids are- without question- the largest source of joy in my career. The hour before our commencement ceremony begins is the best hour of the year- everything is done. Students have accomplished their goal, and all we have to do is wait and enjoy the moment with other students and staff members who journeyed together. It’s an amazing moment!

DL: My personal mission as a school leader is to provide an educational environment where each and every student and staff member is challenged, supported and connected. I love working with students, staff members, families, and community members in pursuit of this goal. Education is hard work, but the rewards are incredible. All it takes is one success story of a student overcoming adversity with the support of a staff member to achieve something they didn’t think was possible, and you are hooked. One of my largest challenges is maintaining balance. My job is a big one, but my faith and my family are my first priority. As I gain more experience, I am learning how to work more effectively and set certain limitations to gain a sounder home/work life balance.

BB: I love the collaboration with staff and families, and I love seeing the amazing professional work of our staff- the art of teaching. We have some truly phenomenal teachers. Moreover, I truly enjoy the strategic planning to accomplish our system priorities. This is the hard stuff, but it’s our job. We have to innovate to improve the quality of education and meet the growing needs of our students, particularly our students of color. Our achievement gaps are predictable by race, and we have to own that, acknowledge it, and learn about the role of race and culture in education. Without racial consciousness, any success will be limited and gaps will persist.

What is your favorite memory from your time as a Bethel history student?

DL: I really enjoyed my history professors. Many were brilliant, yet very relatable, and I found their classes interesting. The staff at Bethel (history and beyond) care about their students as individuals and are invested in their future success. This is a theme I have and will continue to carry forward in my own work with students.

BB: Tough question… There are so many great memories. Ultimately, I loved Senior Seminar. It was structured at the time where various professors from other departments would present a one-hour lesson on a topic of their choice, and that was truly remarkable. Seeing masters of their art and craft give you a personalized lesson about something they are most passionate about was incredible. Applying bits of their wisdom to my own research for my thesis was very beneficial, as well.

All in all, I have nothing but positive experiences and memories from my time as a Bethel history student. I loved every minute of it, and only wished that I would have applied myself more (which is always easy to say in hindsight.) Specifically, though I was always broke, I wish I would have found a way to study abroad for a semester. There were so many opportunities, and I would encourage everyone to strongly consider it.

<<Read the previous entry in the From AC 2nd series     Read the next entry in the series>>

Meet Our Majors: Connor Larson ’17

Connor Larson, History major, Asian Studies minor, and double-plus good citizen.
Connor Larson will graduate in the spring of 2017 with a B.A. in History with a focus in global studies and a minor in Asian Studies.

Connor Larson is a junior-level transfer student, majoring in History and minoring in Asian Studies. He also plans on spending the coming spring semester in China through the Best Semester program. When he isn’t drowning in the sea of reading that is the study of history, he enjoys biking in our lovely Midwestern climate, making stir-fry — a basic requirement of the Asian Studies minor — and doing even more reading when time permits. Once we discovered that we had both read 1984 in high school, he mentioned that “this person is studying. He is a double-plus good citizen. Be like this person.” In addition to his healthy admiration of Big Brother, Connor recognizes Disney’s Flynn Rider as a role model. He also has a healthy dose of suspicion towards interviewers, and insisted on asking me several of his own questions to ensure that he could trust me with his answers. Behold: the hard-earned responses to my interview questions.

You began your education at a community college in Illinois. When and how did you make the decision to transfer to Bethel?

Upon graduating from high school in 2012, I moved to Colorado. After living there until May I realized that I wasn’t really doing anything, so I moved back home and began my college education by getting an Associate of Arts degree at Rock Valley Community College in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois, which is a fantastic community college. I was mostly getting general education requirements out of the way for when I did transfer to a 4-year college, but wasn’t completely sure of what I wanted to study yet. When I started looking into different universities, I started to consider Bethel after visiting my girlfriend here. However, visiting the campus, meeting some professors, and seeing how they interact with students is what really convinced me to attend Bethel. Plus, the food was much better than it was at the other schools I was considering. (Kerry: Tragically, Connor has only eaten at the Dining Center twice so far this year.)

What has been the best thing about transferring to Bethel? Conversely, what has been the most challenging?

Going to a community college was good because it was inexpensive, I got through it quickly, and I was able to work and save up money for the future. However, there wasn’t really a community aspect and I definitely missed that. The best thing about being here is that my girlfriend is here as well as my best friend from high school, who started at Bethel for nursing this year. He and I share an apartment off campus, which is fantastic. It’s just been great to have people like that to talk to again.

In the same vein, living off-campus has been one of the more challenging aspects of transitioning into Bethel. Being off-campus and a transfer student can make it difficult to meet new people and connect with the community at large, because I don’t get to spend as much time here as most students do, and Bethel can be fairly clique-y from the outside.

I was also a bit worried about the course load at Bethel because community colleges are not necessarily known for being particularly rigorous. However, I have been doing pretty well so far, so as of right now I’ve been proving myself wrong. The main difference seems to be that there is a lot more reading here than there was at Rock Valley, or I’m actually doing the readings here instead of skipping them.

You are a History major with an Asian Studies minor. When and why did you pick out that major and minor?

I would say that I picked out my history major during my first semester at Rock Valley. The history professors at Rock Valley Community College were wonderful, and I would credit them with getting me interested in history in the first place. It was the first time in quite a while that I had been interested enough in something that I felt like I wanted to pursue it. My non-Western history and humanities courses are what particularly sparked my interest in history, so keeping that in mind, the Asian Studies minor and the global history focus for the History major made the most sense.

For those of us who are less familiar with the Asian Studies minor, what can you tell us about your minor?

From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a lot of Asian history, philosophy, and religion courses, as well as courses in an Asian language. Since I am choosing Chinese for my language, going to China will help to fulfill a lot of those requirements. It’s not a particularly difficult minor, especially if you’re also a History or a Philosophy major. It’s really great- you get to learn about another culture, and it’s not a crazy amount of work, so it doesn’t detract from your major field of study.

How do History and Asian Studies complement each other? Is there anything that makes the pairing difficult?

They complement each other well if your goal is to go into the study of Asian history. It’s particularly helpful because it assists students in learning more about Asian cultures, which assists students in properly understanding Asian history within the appropriate context. Most of us already have more of a cultural knowledge of Western cultures. Even if we aren’t experts on the Italian Renaissance or the Victorian Era, we have that cultural connection since we have been learning and living in that Western culture for our entire lives. Many of us lack that cultural connection for Asian studies, so the minor helps to bridge that knowledge gap and increase the understanding and appreciation for Asian history.

I’m also hoping to integrate my knowledge from the Asian Studies minor into my Senior Seminar for History. Depending on how burnt-out I am on the study of Chinese history after my semester abroad, I may or may not choose a topic in Chinese history to focus on. If I feel as though I need a break from Chinese history, another area I’ve been interested in is Mongolian history and culture. All we really hear about Mongolian history is Genghis Khan coming in, taking over, and doing all these things, but in reality, Mongolia itself is just a fascinating place to look at. The fact that a culture sprouted up there and stayed there, in one of the most inhospitable places on earth is amazing. I’d really love to dig more into that and learn more about how and why people would choose to settle and remain in such a harsh environment.

The pairing can be difficult because the history program at Bethel doesn’t have as much of an emphasis on Asian history as it does on American and European history. The structure of the program makes going into Asian history a little bit more challenging. I don’t blame the department for that — it’s a small area of study within a small major at a small liberal arts school. It just means that most of my history electives will be taken up on Asian history courses.

You plan to study abroad in China next semester. Can you tell me more about that? What do you hope to gain from the experience?

Bethel is not an inexpensive college. The benefit of that is that when you look at the study-abroad programs, you start to realize that many of them are the same cost as or cheaper than a semester at Bethel, so I found myself asking “why not?” My reasons for choosing China include my Asian Studies minor, as well as the fact that I am particularly interested in the history of China. It logically follows that actually going to China will supplement both my major and minor. This experience could also open doors for me if I chose to pursue a job in China in the future, as there is a high market for Chinese-speaking Americans in China. That isn’t my current goal, but it’s definitely an option. Even if, for some reason, I don’t go into the history field, China is a big player in the global economy, and having this experience would be useful for working in the business world. I am also hoping to gain additional knowledge in the Chinese language, which would be useful for communication and for pursuing a graduate degree.

What do your post-graduation educational and/or vocational plans look like?

My post-graduation plans are currently a bit up in the air. Of course, I’d like to go into graduate studies, and eventually pursue a doctorate. But I would be open to other opportunities that arise from my interests in history, China, and Asian history in general. Right now, I’m not completely committing to any specific plans because things change. I don’t want to be upset because my goals don’t come together in the way I originally planned. I could find myself drawn to different locations or opportunities, so I don’t want to nail myself down to any specifics just yet.

What advice might you give to other transfer students, particularly about opportunities like pursuing minors or studying abroad? 

Take as many credits as you can at the school you transfer to. If you have the credits in place to fit in a semester abroad, and it fits with what you want to study, do it. The most important piece is planning ahead. As a freshman, it’s easy to shrug things off and say “I’ll be fine,” but it is important to have a general plan.

Another thing that’s not related to history or studying abroad would be to get involved as much as you can. It can be difficult, especially if you’re living off campus, but it’s important to get involved as soon as you can. Once the Welcome Week atmosphere wears off, it can be a lot more difficult to find ways to integrate yourself into the school’s community.

Meet Our Majors: Emma Beecken ’16

Throughout the semester, I will be interviewing a variety of history students, alumni, and professors, with the goal of answering the question: what can be done with a history major? To begin, we will be looking into some insights provided by Emma Beecken ’16, who has majors in both the History and Education departments. This post will mostly benefit current History/Education double majors, but is definitely worth a read for anyone in the department considering a future in education.

Emma Beecken is currently a senior here at Bethel, with majors in History, K-6 Elementary Education, Social Studies Education 5-12, and a minor in Communication Arts and Literature 5-8. She spends her very limited free time nannying, preparing copious amounts of baked goods, and participating on Bethel University’s forensics team, where she has experienced success at both the state and national level. She is a great lover of Disney films and The Chronicles of Narnia, and will eagerly explain that she resonates strongly with Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia. Below is a photograph of Emma, followed by her fascinating responses to my interview questions.

An image of Disney's Belle next to her biggest fan, Emma Beecken
From left to right: Disney’s Belle and Bethel University’s own Emma Beecken. The similarities are stunning, aren’t they?

You have a triple major in K-6 Elementary Education, Social Studies Education 5-12, and History, with a minor in Communication Arts and Literature Education for grades 5-8. That is quite a few things. How did you decide on this combination of majors and minor? 

When I was little, it was a constant trade-off between playing school, pioneers, and pioneer school, so I guess this combination didn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. I’ve always been passionate about children and education, and I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a teacher. Throughout high school, opportunities to plan and teach lessons with students of a variety of ages reaffirmed my passion for teaching younger kids. At the same time, I couldn’t help loving history. I figured I could get my history fix by adding a Social Studies Ed major, which would also increase my marketability as an educator. That turned into adding a History major when I realized that the only other classes I would need in order complete the major were courses I would be disappointed not to take. That seemed like a sign I was heading the right direction, so I went for it, summer classes notwithstanding. It was definitely the right decision.

How do you feel the Education and History majors complement each other?

Personally, I couldn’t be happier with this combination. They are very different, and yet they complement each other beautifully.  The study of history teaches you to analyze, synthesize, and critically evaluate a body of information, and then make and communicate informed decisions. That is exactly what a good teacher needs to be doing. A truly loving teacher is analyzing a student, using all of the quantitative and qualitative data that’s available, and then acting on that information to do everything possible to help that child. It’s critical thinking, problem solving, the study of people, cultures, and different perspectives—basically, it’s being part of a giant history case study all the time. And yet it’s so much more, because it is helping a child who was created in the image of God, using every tool I can and every strategy I’ve learned to love that child as tangibly and as fiercely as possible. History has refined those tools, making me that much better of an educator.

There’s also an inherent benefit in teachers who love to learn about one subject in particular. I love teaching Social Studies because I love Social Studies. That in itself is going to make a world of difference to the students. This summer, for example, I was nannying, and we spent part of our days studying history. Because that’s what I love, I planned the most for it, had better ideas, and got the most excited about it, compared to other subjects. Grown-ups’ attitudes are contagious, so the kids got excited too. By the end of the summer, they were begging for more history. That provided a perfect and totally natural platform for teaching reading, writing, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving— all of those skills critical for success, but which are much less engaging when taught in isolation. The same would be true for any other interest. If someone truly loved science or physical education, their excitement and eagerness to create the best lesson possible would result in kids who picked up those passions and all the skills snuck in with them. Adding a history major enhanced my understanding of and love for history, which will only serve to benefit my kids. At the end of the day, majoring in history was an amazing decision for more than just my desire for a “history fix,” but also for the success of my future students.

Conversely, what is the most difficult about your combination of majors and minor?

The most difficult thing about being an Elementary Education/History major is, perhaps, also one of the most beneficial: they are very different majors. Consequently, they draw very different types of people. By the time I got to upper level courses that were filled primarily with students in the major, it was almost like culture shock going from a history course to an Elementary Education class. Speaking in generals, there’s a big difference in the way the people in these majors think, organize themselves, engage in group projects, as well as a difference in personalities. This goes for professors too—even the syllabi feel a little different between the two departments. I have to recalibrate when I switch from course to course, while still trying to find my niche in both. While this can be a tad sticky, it’s also pretty wonderful. I get to see an amazing spectrum of people from all walks of life, hearing a range of ideas and perspectives, and then have to opportunity to bring all of those ideas together.  

Tell me about your student teaching experience. What is the most exciting or enjoyable about it? What has been challenging for you?

Right now, I’m spending half days in a third grade classroom, which will become a full-time student teaching placement in a few weeks. My classroom is 100% English Learners and very high poverty, so it’s been a very different experience than my many practicums in suburbia. To be honest, this isn’t easy. Every single one of my twenty seven, eight, and nine-year-olds is testing low, and, as a whole, they are really struggling. And yet, every time I think about them, it’s like Mama Duck instincts kick in. I love these kids so much. I would give my right arm if that would help them. And then, at the end of the day, you leave after teaching your lesson and realize that, for a few of those kids, it wasn’t enough. They are going to need not just your right arm, but your left arm and maybe even more because they are so far behind. That can be discouraging. Yet, at the same time, it’s also extremely exciting. By God’s grace, I can do something! Seeing them understand and improve is my constant aim. The kids are amazing. I love them to pieces. Challenging or not, they are still the most enjoyable and most exciting part of each day.

You recently completed your Senior Seminar for the History Department over the summer as an independent stuy. As the only current Bethel History student who is done with Senior Seminar, what would you like to share about your senior research? 

A portrait of Hannah More, the subject of Emma Beecken's senior research project
A portrait of the great Hannah More, described by Miss Beecken as a great “lynch pin of history.”
Brownies from the aforementioned Hannah More-themed party, each accompanied by the title of one of Hannah More's books
Brownies from the first-ever Hannah More party. You may notice that each brownie comes with a Hannah More book recommendation.

My senior research project was one of the highlights of my time so far at Bethel. I studied Hannah More, the late eighteenth century best-selling British author, who worked closely with William Wilberforce to evangelize Great Britain. Being able to immerse myself in her life through an extended period of time and extensive research was not only a great opportunity to refine my skills as a historian, but also to dive into something I adored. In this case, it was a brilliant woman of God who did amazing work for the Kingdom, serving as both a fascinating woman to research and a great role model. Dr. Gehrz expertly guided me through the process of making sense of history and faith, and I have come out of that project a stronger historian and a stronger Christian. Plus, Hannah More was just kind of awesome. My friends may have thrown me a Hannah More-themed party when I finished, but that’s another story.

Tell me about your educational and/or vocational plans post-Bethel. Has your student teaching experience influenced these plans?

My goal is to go wherever God can best use the passions He gave me to bring Himself the most glory. So, with that in mind, I’m pretty open at this point. International missions work is not out of the question, and I won’t be surprised if I end up pursuing a master’s degree in either Gifted and Talented Education, Special Education, or maybe something else completely- who knows? I’d also be extremely happy to adopt a bajillion-and-twelve children and be a homeschooling mom though, so I’m flexible. In the short term? I’d be pretty pleased to be teaching in an upper elementary classroom next year.

What advice would you have for other students who are considering pursuing degrees in both History and Education?

Go for it. Seriously. You won’t regret it, and neither will your future students. More practically, be sure to get involved. I made the mistake of feeling like I wasn’t a “real” History major because I was also an Education major, yet at the same time feeling like I wasn’t a “real” Education major. That was kind of silly. I wish I had more fully embraced the department events, people, and connections that were available for both majors, rather than discounting myself from either. In other words, double-dip on Christmas parties, because really, it’s all for the love of the students anyway.

Good Advice for Picking a Major: Don’t Be “Practical”

There are a lot of reasons to choose a college major, but perhaps the worst is that it’s “practical.” Or so argues historian Cecilia Gaposchkin, who coordinates pre-major advising at Dartmouth University:

Cecilia Gaposchkin…the premise of the “practical major” is corroding college intellectual life. As students flock to the two or three majors they see as good investments, professors who teach in those majors are overburdened, and the majors themselves become more formulaic and less individualized. A vocational approach to liberal-arts education eviscerates precisely the qualities that are most valuable about it: intellectual curiosity and passion.

“The big majors,” a political scientist at Dartmouth told me recently, “collect a lot of students who aren’t really interested in the subject, and, because of the class sizes, those students lose out on highly individualized instruction.”

(For the record: a typical upper-division history course at Bethel enrolls 8-15 students.)

Gaposchkin goes on to make hopefully familiar arguments about the value of a seemingly “impractical” major like history: that it cultivates the ability to think, rather than the acquisition of information that will soon be obsolete; that the skills and vision employers most value are actually taught very well in fields like history; that mid-career salaries are actually quite strong for graduates in those areas.

So how should you pick a major? Follow your interests, advises Gaposchkin:

By releasing students from the pressure of the practical major and allowing them to study what they are sincerely interested in, we allow them to become smarter, more creative, and more able. This is what potential employers value, not course content that is likely to be obsolete once they have finished training the recent graduate.

What’s New in 2014-2015? Curriculum and Courses

This year’s crop of History majors and minors at Bethel will be the first to experience a curriculum that’s been significantly revised. While our programs remain small (about 36 credits for the major, half that for the minor) and flexible (mostly giving students choices within categories), it’s been updated in several important ways:

  • Screenshot of the title sequence for "Past & Presence"
    Screenshot of the title sequence for our Past & Presence webisodes. (Click through to YouTube to see a rough cut of our “road trip” episode, culminating in a visit to Duluth, MN.)

    Probably the most notable change is that we’ve created a new course, HIS290 Introduction to History, as a requirement for both majors and minors. Blending face-to-face instruction (a two-hour Monday evening seminar) with online elements (weekly department webisodes and a course blog), HIS290 will introduce students to the theory and practice of history as a discipline, with particular emphasis on how Christians engage in study of the past and connections with vocation and career. You can read more about it at Prof. Chris Gehrz’s blog: first this introduction, then this update on what he and colleague Sam Mulberry did this summer to prepare for the webisode series, Past & Presence.

  • Students will continue to study history from multiple regions, taking two courses each from U.S., Global, and European (ancient, medieval, and modern) categories. The most important change here is in doubling the Global requirement from one course to two — at least one of which (as in the other two categories) needs to be 300-level.
  • With the new Intro course, the old Introductory category requirement goes away. (Though most of those courses still satisfy regional distribution requirements.) Likewise, with each category now requiring an upper-division course — all of which feature high expectations for writing and reading, plus elements of original research and/or historiography — the Foundation category has disappeared. (Though Modern Europe, Modern America, and Roman Civ still meet other requirements.)

One of the reasons we were able, at long last, to expand and deepen the Global requirement was the full-time addition of Amy Poppinga to our faculty. In addition to HIS328G Muslim Women in History (which debuted last year), Amy has created another new upper-division course, HIS/POS356 Modern Middle East, which premiered last week. She writes:

It has been interesting to develop my course curriculum this summer in the midst of the daily news, dominated by the struggles facing the region we will be studying. At the same time, I think students will be challenged by our need to stay on top of current events weekly, and will be enriched by building their knowledge of both the history and cultures of the countries of the Middle East. It has been hard to narrow down the selection of films and documentaries we will draw from and I am looking forward to having students assist me with determining which of these media resources will be most helpful for the students following in their footsteps. To me, that is one of the most exciting things about being a part of an inaugural course. This first group will inform how the course develops over time and I hope that these students will be excited by that opportunity.

(This spring Amy will also get a chance to teach a 200-level course on her primary field of expertise as a part of Bethel’s Honors program.)

Amid the larger curricular shifts, our capstone experience, HIS499 Senior Seminar, remains both unchanged and always unpredictable, as Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra explains: “…every new semester means a slew of new research projects from veteran History majors. I always look forward to assisting students as they get a glimpse of what it feels like to be a professional historian, and to do what they often consider their best work as Bethel students.”

<<Read the previous entry in this series of updates

What Can You Do with a History Major?

Since the first days of this blog, we’ve been featuring interviews with Bethel History alumni who have taken a wide variety of career paths. Just recently we added interviews with a college admissions counselor, a corporate vice president, and the coordinator of publications for a Christian organization.

If you’ve missed the series so far, here’s your chance to catch up and learn why you really can do almost anything with a History major. From oldest to newest, every entry to date in the From AC 2nd to… series:

In addition, check out our interview with our newest colleague, Amy (Kline-Blount) Poppinga, who graduated from Bethel with a History/Social Studies Education degree in 1999.

Before the spring semester is done, we still hope to feature interviews with at least two more alumni: a worship leader at a local church and a History major who went back to school to get a master’s in teaching. And if you’re an alum working in a field not yet represented, please let us know if you’d be interested in being interviewed!

Our Mission and Objectives (part 3)

In the first post in this series, we looked at our department’s revised mission statement, adopted last August. I closed that post by noting that we left the mission statement itself without explicit reference to Christianity, since it would be followed by two objectives that make our religious commitments eminently clear.

Last time we looked at the first of those objectives, which focused on student acquisition of historical knowledge. Today we’ll close the series by sharing the second objective, which affirms that knowledge of the past is not enough if, as we put it in our mission statement, our students should be “actively engaged with the present.”

2. Our students will cultivate wisdom, so that they can live skillfully in the present day, serving others and glorifying God wherever they’re called.

As important as it is for our students to gain a broad knowledge of the past, we view our task as more formative than informative. Above all, we hope to form our students as followers of Jesus Christ who “busy themselves on Earth” though “their citizenship is in heaven” (in the words of The Letter to Diognetus, an early Christian apologetic). While they sojourn in this world, our students will “busy” themselves in a variety of callings, but all to two basic ends: what the Pietist educator A. H. Francke summed up as “God’s glory and neighbor’s good.”

To do this requires not merely knowledge, but wisdom, which Eugene Peterson defines as “the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves.” So, knowing that our students will encounter a variety of conditions after leaving Bethel, we seek to cultivate wisdom through the development of two basic sets of skills:

LIFELONG LEARNING

The completion of a Bethel degree is but one stage in a lifelong process of learning, defined by the apostle Paul in the famous admonishment: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” (Rom 12:2a). So to help them avoid the trap of being “conformed to this world” and to sustain the ongoing renewal of their minds beyond college, we equip our students to ask good questions (rather than accepting assumptions and arguments without challenge) and to locate, identify, and evaluate sources and synthesize and analyze data and interpretations as they seek answers to those questions. So, across the curriculum and culminating in the capstone experience, our courses will train students in skills like critical thinking, reading (not just books and articles, but in a variety of media), and research.

Students should thereby be equipped not only to continue their studies in graduate or professional school (for those called to careers in education, law, ministry, health care, business, etc.), but also to ask and answer questions they might encounter as voters, consumers, parents, employees or employers, church members, and in other roles.

COMMUNICATION

Because learning itself is not a purely individual pursuit and because our students will follow callings that will take them into conversation with people of varying backgrounds, they must be able to communicate effectively. We place highest importance on the ability to write well in a variety of genres, but coursework will also prepare students to communicate orally or via audio-visual media.

Of course, we also want students to recognize that communication does not travel in one direction alone. They should also have the skill of listening, cultivated in part by treating courses as conversations in which students must pay attention to the voices of peers, professors, other scholars, and women and men from throughout history.

For our students and alumni who’ve been reading this series, we’d love to hear your take:

Do the stated mission and objectives seem to match up with what you experience(d) at Bethel?

Which of the objectives seem most important to you?

Are there other objectives you think are important but neglected in this statement?

– Chris Gehrz

<<Read the previous entry in this series

Our Mission and Objectives (part 2)

In the first post in this series, we looked at our department’s revised mission statement, adopted last August. I closed that post by noting that we left the mission statement itself without explicit reference to Christianity, since it would be followed by two objectives that make our religious commitments eminently clear. Today we’ll look at the first of those two objectives, the one that accompanies our mission statement’s ambition to “prepare students who are… imaginatively comfortable in a historic past….”

1. Our students will gain a broad knowledge of human history, deepened by the integration of Christian faith and learning, the recurrence of marginalization and interconnectedness as historical themes, and the development of their own particular passions and interests.

Believing that all of God’s creation — including all human beings, who bear the image of God — is worthy of study, we have constructed our curriculum broadly, so that it familiarizes students with the histories of peoples from multiple regions, including the United States, Europe, and parts of the Global South. Our curriculum features survey courses that each give an overview of a region, era, and/or field while also enabling faculty to teach to their interests and expertise and students to conduct more focused study on narrow topics of their selection.

Within this admittedly broad objective, our curriculum and courses will reflect the following shared emphases:

MARGINALIZATION AND EMPATHY

We affirm that our faith and learning are necessarily interrelated, so courses will frequently lead students to consider what is distinctive about the discipline of history as Christians practice it. While students should expect to see their professors model varying philosophical and methodological responses to this question, we share the guiding assumption that historians who follow Jesus Christ ought to imitate him in paying special attention to those on the margins of society: the poor, the oppressed, and the alien, to name but a few groups. Rather than simply repeating comfortable narratives of power and privilege, we will seek to tell the stories of those who are powerless and dispossessed. In particular, our courses will consider categories like gender, class, and race that have often been used to perpetuate injustice.

Such emphases demand that we work even harder to develop a basic skill for historians: empathy. We affirm that history is not merely the collection of an objective set of facts, but requires us to be aware of our own subjectivity and to develop the imaginative understanding necessary to see the world as others see it. As a special focus, we will be hospitable to those of different religions and ideologies.

THE “CLOUD OF WITNESSES”

While we are interested in the stories of people from all faiths (and those professing no religious belief), we will be particularly attentive to the role played by Christians within history.

This does not mean that we will engage in hagiography, celebrating uncritically the temporal story of the church and its members; all Christians sin and fall short of the glory of God, and so even their ecclesial institutions are inherently flawed and prone to subverting the very gospel they proclaim. But we are guided by the biblical image of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), which reminds us that we are but the latest participants in a millennia-old narrative of God and his people, a story that will not always be comfortable for us to tell but nonetheless inspires us to persevere as we “run… the race that is set before us.”

INTERCONNECTEDNESS

No single history can be studied in isolation. So while each course may focus on a particular group, territory, civilization, or event, students should expect to encounter themes of interconnectedness: categories central to international and transnational history (e.g., war and diplomacy, empire, migration, trade and commerce, cultural exchange, technological development, human interactions with their physical environment); comparisons between societies and cultures; and attentiveness to continuity and discontinuity across time.

In addition, we will emphasize the connections of individual courses to larger educational projects. Each course helps to build foundations for further study in later history coursework, in the Bethel general education curriculum, and in students’ lives after college.

PASSIONATE CURIOSITY

We recognize that those who study history do so out of a God-given, passionate curiosity about the past that is as distinctive to the individual as it is unusual in contemporary American culture. So while providing basic foundations for broad historical knowledge, we leave ample room — in the curriculum and in individual courses — for students to explore their personal interests. This is exemplified by our capstone course, a seminar facilitating original research by senior students into virtually any historical topic.

In the next and final post in the series, we’ll share our second overarching objective, in which we focus less on knowledge and more on the cultivation of wisdom…

– Chris Gehrz

<<Read the first entry in this series          Read the final entry in this series>>