Congratulations to the Doctors Thostenson!

We’d like to interrupt our usual summer hiatus long enough to congratulate two former students — two siblings! — who have recently completed PhD’s in their respective fields.

• Katie Thostenson ’05 earned her doctorate in classics from the University of Edinburgh for her examination of the historical context of the early Christian apologist Tertullian, specifically his views on women, the body, and sexual difference. While Tertullian was “conservative in his recommendations for men and women, reflecting more closely non-Christian assumptions about male and female bodies that fix women in the subordinate position of a sexual hierarchy,” she concluded that he nonetheless challenged the patriarchal assumptions of his time “in his vision of primordial and eschatological states where men and women are not bound by secular institutions, but live in the fullness of God.” A former adjunct professor in our department who reflected on her experience with graduate education in the UK in this 2014 roundtable interview, Katie now lives in Munich, Germany with her husband Kai, an economist.

Katie and Jimmy Thostenson
Katie and Jimmy earlier this year near Asheville, NC – photo courtesy of Katie Thostenson

• Then Katie’s brother Jimmy won an Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, for his research towards creating an energy efficient toilet (an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). While he majored in Applied Physics as a member of Bethel’s class of 2010, Jimmy also completed a History minor, for reasons he shared in this 2013 blog post:

I often defend my minor in history to STEM people as being as important, if not more important, to me than my major in applied physics. Why? Because of the tangible, practical skills I built through learning about various times in history. It wasn’t facts about the Cold War or the order of Roman emperors I took away that was important, it was how I learned to build and argue my view points, research topics I knew nothing about, critically think about biased material, balance other argued view points, and many other skills which are missed when students ask, “How will studying the humanities land me a job?” To this end, I would say that while applied physics was what allowed me to be considered for a job within a STEM occupation, a minor in history was what set me apart from the pool of candidates and also gave me the skills I needed to be a successful employee.

Jimmy lives in Durham, North Carolina. His wife Melissa Gwynn ’10, exhibition and publications manager at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, also has connections to our department: she majored in Art History at Bethel and wrote her senior paper for us on the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich.


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

Environmental Sciences Major, History Minor

This morning we continue our series of brief interviews with Bethel students and alumni who combined a History minor with a seemingly unrelated major. Today’s guest is Andrew Van Eps (’12), who completed a B.S. in Environmental Sciences in addition to minors in History and Biology. (Like our last interviewee, Andrew also served as a teaching assistant in the History Department.)

How and when did you decide to minor in History?

Andrew Van EpsI decided to minor in History fairly early on in my college days, partially because of an excellent high school teacher, and partially because of my exposure to some of the brilliant and down-to-earth professors within the history department at Bethel that I had as a freshman and sophomore. I found that the history classes I took provided some much needed variety to my schedule. My history classes and the required homework were so different from most of the lab sciences that I found them to be a pleasant reprieve from my other coursework.

What would you say to someone who loves history but wants to major in a STEM field: why should they think about minoring in History?

I originally declared my major as pre-med and Biology, but, after a semester of microbiology, chemistry, and calculus, I realized that that was not what God had equipped me for. I was drawn to the bigger picture of the natural world surrounding us. In regards to the environmental sciences, learning about how modern society has developed to this point and how technology has advanced throughout the years is vital to understanding how we relate to the environment, whether by looking at the negative environmental impacts of our society or how enjoyment and proper stewardship of natural resources benefits all parties involved.

Early on, I made the mistake of overlooking and underappreciating history as a field of study as far as its usefulness in the future, but I think that the wisdom gleaned from the past can greatly improve our current and future decisions (particularly in regards to the environment), whether high up in the political realm or at the basic level of personal lifestyle choices.

All in all, I consider myself very fortunate to have taken the history classes I did because I believe they helped me become a more well-rounded individual while also providing a unique perspective on my major course of study.

What are you doing now?

Currently, I am a ranchhand in one of the most beautiful corners of the world, outside of White Sulphur Springs, MT. My job involves a variety of work, including guest services (fly fishing, hiking, and hunting guide, and, of course, driving guests to and from the airport), livestock management, forestry, building repair and maintenance, and, to state it bluntly, labor. I have difficulty describing what I do for a living because it encompasses so many different things, and yet I feel that that is the reason I am so attracted to my current job and am so grateful for my experiences at Bethel with the various areas of study I pursued.

<<Read the previous entry in this series

Biology Major, History Minor

We’ll close the week with a third installment in our new series profiling Bethel students and alumni who combined a History minor with a degree in something seemingly having nothing to do with study of the past. Having already interviewed a physicist and a chemist, we continued our tour of the natural sciences with Kendra (Lokhorst) Larson (’11), who not only paired her B.S. degree in Biology with a History minor but served as a teaching assistant in our department.

How did you decide to minor in History? At what point did you decide to do so?

Ever since middle school I have had an interest in History. Thanks to a wonderful U.S. History teacher in high school — who was actually a Bethel graduate! — my interest developed into a love for the subject. During J-term my sophomore year at Bethel I took Dr. Gehrz’s WWI class to fulfill the L gen ed requirement [Contemporary Western Life and Thought: History accounts for the majority of L courses] and loved it so much that I decided I HAD to take more History classes. I’m a big planner so I pulled out my prospective class loads for the upcoming semesters and figured out how to fit more History classes in.

Was it hard to do the History minor at the same time as a B.S. in Biology?

I was actually surprised how easy it was! One of the great things I realized about History classes is that a lot of them fulfill different gen ed requirements such as L, G, U, and K which I would have needed to take anyways. [You can double-count three HIS courses for gen ed — that’s at least half the minor already] While taking the Cold War class the spring semester of my sophomore year, I realized how beneficial it was to give my brain a rest from science classes and labs and offer some variety into my class schedule. Since I was taking Physiology, Organic Chemistry, and Physics that semester, having a History class that was completely different and that didn’t have a lab was a welcome break! After that I tried to sneak in at least one History class per semester. I actually found so many interesting classes to take that I ended up just two classes short of a History major!

Kendra (Lokhorst) Larson ('11)What are you doing now?

Currently I am working in the finance department of a global fertilizer company. I am looking to pursue a career in the medical field, but still trying to decide which graduate school path I want to take.

What would you say to someone who loves history but wants to major in a STEM field: why should they think about minoring in History?

If you have an interest in History, now is the time to pursue it. When else will you get the chance to obtain that knowledge in a class setting? Yes, you can read books about it, but that won’t compare to getting an in-depth learning experience taught by a professor who specializes in that field. Plus, by taking history classes you can cover a lot of the general education requirements (L, U, G, and K) that you’ll need to take anyways. Also, like I mentioned above, during my time at Bethel I found that taking a History class per semester was a welcome break from having so many science classes and labs and allowed for a nice variety in my class schedules. I promise, with the fantastic History faculty at Bethel you won’t be disappointed with your choice to pursue a History minor. (Not to mention, with all these interesting new classes that are being offered, I wish I was still there to take them!)

<<Read the previous entry in this series                     Read the next entry in this series>>

Chemistry Major, History Minor

Our series introducing Bethel students who combined a minor in History with a major in a seemingly unrelated field of study continues with Bethel senior Andrea Kanani (’14), who has already completed her History minor and is now wrapping up a double-major in Biochemistry and Chemistry.

How and when did you decide to minor in History?

I was a part of the Humanities program and really loved learning the history behind the literature, art, music, and theology. I couldn’t imagine how I could not take some kind of class that was history-related as I thought about majoring in science. By the end of fall semester my sophomore year I was still undecided, but at that point I was leaning more strongly towards a science major. A combination of different conversations over my first two years at Bethel with GW, Prof. Gehrz, Prof. Rivera, and Prof. Kooistra helped me realize I might want to try to fit in a History minor.  I hadn’t even thought of that option before talking about it with different professors; it was either history or science in my mind. By the end of my sophomore year I had finally decided on majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in History.

Was it hard to finish a History minor at the same time as your majors?

Andrea Kanani
Andrea in Cambridge, England last January, during the History of Science in Europe trip led by chemists Wade Neiwert and Trey Maddox

I brought in some history credits, which helped making fitting in the History minor easier. Sometimes it did get hard trying to work around upper-level science classes that I had to take with history classes I wanted to take, but there is such a variety of history classes, that a good one always seemed to eventually fit in. Homework-wise, fitting in a history major was both wonderfully helpful and a little frustrating. History classes were such a great way to take a bit of break from the methodical thinking of science classes. It was wonderful to stop thinking in terms of reactions and calculations to read, think, and discuss social issues, morals, and where we fit into the world. At times it got frustrating trying to fit in time to read or do research for a paper when a lab takes longer than expected and writing a lab report feels like a priority.         

What do you hope to do after leaving Bethel?

For now, I plan on taking a year off to work and apply to graduate school.  I’m leaning towards doing research, especially for medical devices.

What would you say to someone who loves history but wants to major in a STEM field: why should they think about minoring in History?

Do it! Make it work!

Even if you can’t fit in the actual minor with all the science requirements, try fitting in as many Gen Eds through the History Department as possible. Try choosing to do research papers that relate to the history of science. There are, of course, the benefits of better writing skills or looking like a more rounded student on an application, but if you really love history, the history will help you have a greater appreciation for the science you want to do. Take history classes through the eyes of a scientist and watch for when and how science played a major role in history.

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

Physics Major, History Minor

Today we’re starting a new series of alumni and student interviews. Instead of highlighting students who majored in History, this series will introduce us to students from other, seemingly unrelated majors who nonetheless completed a History minor. As we do in our From AC 2nd… series of interviews with former majors, we’ll be asking these women and men why they studied History at Bethel and how they see it connecting to their primary fields of interest and expertise — or, in the case of alumni, to their careers.

We’ll start with Jimmy Thostenson (’10), who majored in Applied Physics at Bethel and finished minors in History and Mathematics.

What are you doing now?

I am currently working full-time for Duke University, inside the Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMIF) at the Pratt School of Engineering as a Research and Development Engineer. My day-to-day is to help users of the facility to operate, understand, and glean information out of the high-tech instrumentation the facility houses for projects within STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] disciplines.. In addition to developing processes for fabricating and developing materials across numerous instruments, I mainly oversee the use of our x-ray micro-computed tomography scanner (micro-CT) and small angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) instruments, where samples come from projects across the spectrum of engineering disciplines, medicine, science and technology.

I am also pursuing part-time a master’s of science in mechanical engineering at Duke, and will have completed my first semester as of this November.

How did you decide to minor in History? Was it hard to do with your major?

Love at first cite of course!

Jimmy Thostenson in Sydney, Australia
Jimmy in Sydney, during his semester abroad in Australia

Honestly? I guess I would say that I was “unofficially minoring” in history from my very first memories of my childhood. My father loves Roman history and to this day he recites Gibbon’s Decline and Fall volumes to my sister [current History adjunct instructor Katie Thostenson]. The stories he recited were always very interesting to me and seemed very relevant to what was happening in current events. Moreover, I had a wild imagination (still do!) and I became affixed to living an imaginary life based on historical anecdotes of emperors, peasants, world leaders, generals, and even gods in a timeframe and location not my own.

With that seed planted for an interest in history, I began to naturally gravitate towards electives in history throughout high school and college so that I could continue to explore different cultures, eras, and ideologies that interested me. It was only late in my junior year that I made minoring in history an official part of my degree at Bethel. I did so after realizing I had only 1-2 classes left to fulfill the needed requirements for a minor in history. Since I was already registered for another history class the following semester, it was a no-brainer.

Pursuing a minor in history with a major in applied physics could seem difficult, but as you take classes and slowly knock out requirements, it will not become as hard as you might think. Like I wrote above, I naturally fell into a minor in history because I kept taking classes that sounded interesting to me, and my plan had never been to have one until late in the game when it became obvious on paper.

To fully invest myself in both fields and learn as much as I wanted to from both when deadlines approached was difficult. And I say this because I was by no means an exceptional student, and like most successful undergrads, I had to work hard and put in a lot of head-hitting-desk hours to fully learn material and make the most out of my educational experience while also balancing time with family, friends and a part-time job. I’ve always found time to do the things I love, and history was definitely one of those things so I never felt like I had to sacrifice much – except for a few hours of sleep here and there, of course. So yes, it is more work and could seem hard to do for someone in the sciences, but if you concentrate on understanding and learning material that you know you are interested in and concentrate less on deadlines, page length, grades, and other quantitative standards that stress out most students when balancing a heavy schedule, I think that you will find that minoring in history is more fun and far juicier than most movies, shows, books, or magazines that would otherwise fill your time when not in the lab or doing problems.

What would you say to someone who loves history but wants to major in a STEM field: why should they think about minoring in History?

I often defend my minor in history to STEM people as being as important, if not more important, to me than my major in applied physics. Why? Because of the tangible, practical skills I built through learning about various times in history. It wasn’t facts about the Cold War or the order of Roman emperors I took away that was important, it was how I learned to build and argue my view points, research topics I knew nothing about, critically think about biased material, balance other argued view points, and many other skills which are missed when students ask, “How will studying the humanities land me a job?” To this end, I would say that while applied physics was what allowed me to be considered for a job within a STEM occupation, a minor in history was what set me apart from the pool of candidates and also gave me the skills I needed to be a successful employee.

Jimmy ThostensonThe best evidence I can give for this was from a job fair I attended a month before graduating from Bethel which was held for STEM undergrads at the University of Minnesota. If you have ever been to one of these things, it’s obvious from the hundreds of students there that everyone is in desperate need of a job after graduation and, even though it’s STEM employers, there just aren’t that many jobs to go around for the number of applicants in the pool. Everyone is trying to set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd by communicating to employers their uniqueness in contrast to a crowd with which they all share a similar background.

I, not being a very confident applicant, made my way to a few booths set up by companies I knew. I smiled sheepishly, shook the recruiters’ hands with intermittent eye contact, introduced myself while offering them my resume, and asked if they were hiring — which usually concluded the interview as they glossed over my resume, saw nothing exceptional to note, and politely replied, “We are considering a few open positions for well-qualified candidates. We’ll be sure to contact you if your resume indicates relevant experience towards any of these job descriptions.” Before then placing my resume in a rather large pile of papers. After 4-6 booths and similar experiences, I began to feel dejected as I saw my resume added time and again to a pile at least 3-4 ft tall, which lay next to one that was a half-inch tall at highest  and contained what I concluded were the “well-qualified candidates’” resumes.

It wasn’t until I stopped at a patent law firm’s booth before it occurred to me the unique value of having a minor in history. The recruiter interviewing me was very upfront and to the point about weeding out “well-qualified” candidates from the rest of the pool when I was greeted by the question, “So, what is so special about you that we should consider you for employment?” After first removing my brain-dead expression from my face, I rattled off some work experience, lab experience, and the usual other important items employers like to see on the resume of STEM applicants. As she glossed over my resume with a sour look, I saw her eyes widen and look up at me over the frame of her bifocals, perplexed: “You have a minor in history?” I replied, “Is that not okay to put on a resume? Is it not relevant?” I felt nervous and — for some reason — ashamed. “Every single engineer, scientist and researcher here has some advanced science degree,” she explained, “but none of them can prove to us that they can write and communicate at the level we need them to. Each of them could write formulas all day long but at the end of day, no one would understand it but them.” I started to feel questionably reassured about listing my minor in history. “With a minor in history you have the background to be a very effective communicator AND also the [STEM] background needed to still write those formulas from dusk ‘til dawn.” Feeling more confident, I began to indicate how I felt my major and minor were complementary towards how I approach problems and follow through on solutions regarding any task at hand. Our conversation went on for another couple minutes and her interest in me seemed piqued, before we then shook hands, departed and I watched my resume land on the top of that well-sought after half-inch stack of resumes.

I did end up hearing from them again, but in the end was not offered a job even though I was told that I was a top candidate for which they had interest. Regardless, it was a valuable and defining experience for me and helped me to understand that my educational background highlighted me as both a problem solver and an effective communicator. Both of which I have come to learn from my education and professional experiences are necessary to have when pursuing a career in STEM or really, any other discipline.

With that said, the subject matter I learned from both a major in a STEM field and a minor in history was not my main takeaways – I don’t think it is for most students. The skill set I developed and solidified was. The fact that I have been able to prove to others that I can critically think and problem solve a variety of topics both familiar and unfamiliar to me has been the main characteristic I and my past employers (3M, American Museum of Natural History, and current employer/institution of study Duke University) indicate that they value most about me. Everyone wants a well-rounded, yet specialized background with a diversified skill set. A minor in history with a major in applied physics has allowed me to fulfill all of these traits while also allowing me to follow a career path with multiple horizons unseen by those with only a STEM or humanities oriented degree.

If nothing else, don’t forget that you win big bucks on game shows for knowing historical events and figures and not just F=ma.

Read the next entry in this series>>