“Professionalizing History Majors”: A New Approach to Broadening the Perspectives of Undergraduates on Their Postgraduation Worlds

“Professionalizing History Majors”: A New Approach to Broadening the Perspectives of... Are faculty at colleges and universities adequately preparing history majors for the twenty-first century world? Observers inside and outside of the academy frequently ask this question in various forms. History faculty have responded with different answers, some centered on curricular innovations. Many have redesigned curricula to emphasize active, student-centered learning, rethought course offerings to attract diversified audiences—often in online environments—and promoted public and digital history to foster interdisciplinary connections and enrollments. These efforts are enhancing the skills and abilities of history students in ways that will expand their career options and civic engagement. But is that enough? Despite these innovations, history majors frequently have difficulty articulating what they are learning to those outside the discipline and remain attached to the view that they have few postgraduation options other than teaching. Rather than resist arguments that the history major has little modern value, some students reaffirm their foundations by failing to understand and explain the valuable, transferable skills they are learning. Stated another way, the discipline of history is changing to respond to student and societal needs in the twenty-first century, but history majors are largely unprepared to make these arguments convincingly.1 To address this challenge, in 2015 an interdisciplinary team of faculty and administrators at the University of Central Florida (UCF) collaborated in designing a course with few parallels in U.S. colleges and universities: an introductory professionalization seminar for history majors. Rather than focus on historical content, research methodologies, or graduate school preparation, this course centers on the premise that undergraduates who decide to become history majors need to understand better their chosen discipline's varied postgraduation opportunities and become familiar with the transferable skill sets they are acquiring as they learn about the past and how to research it. Creating such a course proved daunting for many reasons. Chief among them were the lack of models from other institutions and resistance from some faculty colleagues to the idea that students in a nonapplied, humanities discipline “of the mind” should be concerned with seemingly career-oriented, job-training exercises in the history classroom. Consequently, the UCF team confronted the need to prepare history majors for their curriculum and postgraduation world and the importance of respecting concerns that courses required of history majors should not be dedicated solely to job training. The resulting discipline-centered course has greatly exceeded expectations. “Professionalizing History Majors” incorporates the principles of the American Historical Association (AHA) History Tuning Project as well as UCF's current accreditation-related Quality Enhancement Project (QEP) theme, “What's Next: Integrative Learning for Professional and Civic Preparation.” Students engage in traditional readings-based discussions, quizzes, and paper-writing assignments while actively participating in out-of-the-classroom professionalization experiences highlighted by interactions with faculty members and community advisory board members. Through these activities, enrolled students have taken ownership of their academic preparation, improved their ability to articulate what they are learning as history majors in multiple venues, and developed strategies to apply these skills and related knowledge to prepare for postgraduation endeavors within and outside of graduate school. Those who successfully complete the class can explain why they are history majors and argue the merits of the degree for society.2 Overview of Course Content As a public, metropolitan, research university, UCF annually enrolls more than sixty thousand students, with approximately four hundred history majors. Well over half of those pursuing history as a bachelor's degree major have transferred from other institutions, mostly community colleges (labeled “state colleges” in Florida). Many history majors later enter the master's degree program in history with a small percentage eventually pursuing Ph.D. work in the field. While the department of history is only now beginning to compile statistics on history majors' postgraduation destinations, anecdotal evidence indicates that most typically pursue a variety of occupations in central Florida. These factors helped guide the content of Professionalizing History Majors. According to the syllabus distributed to enrolled students, the primary goal of the course is to enhance History majors' understanding of the opportunities they will encounter in both modern society and their post-graduation careers. Primary emphasis will be placed on the role of History professionals in civic life and workplace endeavors by familiarizing students with the transferable skills they will learn as History majors. In addition, students in this course will learn how to better articulate for different post-graduation audiences the abilities and knowledge they have obtained as History majors. Overall, this course is designed to help History Majors better understand their chosen discipline and how it will prepare them for life after UCF.3 Accordingly, the course functions as an introduction to basic historiography and disciplinary mechanics, broadly conceived, as well as a professional development primer similar in design to offerings for applied fields at UCF and other universities. Students learn about the skills they are acquiring as history majors, become familiar with the best ways to articulate their discipline-related knowledge to others outside the major, and enhance their exposure to the lives of history professionals, both inside and outside the academy. In addition to completing quizzes, discussion postings, reflection papers, and e-portfolios, students are evaluated in their ability to convey their rationales, skills, and goals as history majors through brief interviews with history faculty and course advisory board members outside class. Students receive in-class presentations (by the instructor and guest speakers) on: Self-Assessment: Skills, Goals, Opportunities Academic Historians and Historiography Public Historians and Non-Academic History History Majors and Non-History Careers Transferable Skills: Understanding and Articulating Them History Majors and Civic Life Experiential Learning and Internships Ideally, by the conclusion of the course, students have a greater understanding of what the history major offers and how they need to communicate what they are learning to become effective history professionals upon graduation, regardless of the path they follow.4 The design of Professionalizing History Majors also is heavily influenced by the QEP “What's Next” and the AHA History Tuning Project. Initiated as part of the university's reaccreditation process, “What's Next” focuses on better preparing UCF students in all disciplines for the professional opportunities they will encounter upon graduation. Students are encouraged to begin planning their postgraduation goals early in their academic careers, focus on how the skills they are learning will transfer to off-campus jobs and civic engagement endeavors, and “advocate for themselves in their lives beyond the university.” Similarly, yet more discipline-targeted, the AHA History Tuning Project is an effort “to articulate the core of historical study and to identify what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program.” In 2012, as part of this project, an initial cohort of sixty-five history educators from colleges and universities around the country agreed to collaborate in formulating core objectives, in the process clarifying the skills that recipients of a history degree can use for “personal development, civic engagement, and career potential.”5 Specific Course Activities The topics covered in Professionalizing History Majors stem from meetings involving a number of campus constituencies brought together to advise on and help implement the QEP. Colleagues in the department of history lobbied for a course that introduced the fundamentals of history instruction, with coverage of historiography, different history genres and professions, and what historians do outside of the classroom. Personnel from UCF Career Services suggested exposing students to the information and experiences needed by all undergraduates to market themselves to employers, such as resume construction and job interview practice. The head of advising for the College of Business, who holds a master's degree in history, championed as many applied, out-of-class professionalization experiences as possible for students to demonstrate and hone the skills they are acquiring as history majors. All who advised on the course's development encouraged a rigorous curriculum that challenged students to leave their comfort zones and explore the many opportunities to augment their education but often were not using. From the beginning, those involved in these discussions envisioned this course as a model for other departments at UCF that lacked similar offerings for students majoring in their disciplines. In the resulting course, the world of professional historians serves as the starting place. Our department historiography specialist visits the class to introduce students to historiography, stressing that students should use the skills they learn for contextualizing history-related methodological and interpretive discussions when engaging ongoing societal debates related to politics, culture, and other issues. The following week a faculty member in the department's public history program provides an overview of the field and how it differs from and aligns with the “academic” history emphasized in the historiography talk. Both presenters explain that neither academic nor public historians work exclusively on college and university campuses, and they provide examples of different careers and their settings for practitioners of either historical genre. A third presenter, the College of Business adviser, discusses the jobs he has had, including as a used-car salesman and as a human resources director, while also conveying the applicability of skills learned as a history student. Across these different topics, all presenters focus on the numerous ways students can apply skills learned as history majors in postgraduation careers, a prominent theme of the course. Presentations on general postgraduation preparation follow these history-oriented topics. Twice during the semester, the class meets in the UCF Career Services office, a place only a few students had visited (or even knew existed). The first session focuses on how students can assess the skills they have and those they want, what their career and noncareer goals are and may be in the future, and how to capitalize on both. A career services adviser facilitates individual and group introspection related to the history major, pushing students to consider more factors than just their love of the subject when completing the requirements of the major. A few weeks later, the career services director gives a presentation in which students identify the skills and knowledge they are obtaining as history majors. While many students initially focus on teaching and research broadly construed, by the end of the presentations some find it difficult to keep track of the different manifestations of writing, communicating, organizing, evaluating, interpreting, and analyzing that can be used in a number of jobs having little to do with professional history. Other sessions deal specifically with the ways students can learn more about their profession and apply the skills they have learned prior to graduation. Two presenters, from the UCF Department of History and the UCF Office of Experiential Learning, explain the value of internships. Approaching the subject from different perspectives, the history internship coordinator informs students of the varied semester-length opportunities for working in regional, national, and international archives, libraries, museums, and history societies, while the experiential learning internship coordinator focuses on non-history-specific internships in nonprofit, private business, and government positions to enhance students' disciplinary skills. The presentations converge on the importance of internships in developing skills, fashioning professional networks, and expanding the scope of the students' résumés and CVS. These experiences augment another presentation on using skills learned as a history major for civic engagement. The presenter is a master's degree student (UCF has no history Ph.D. program) who has become celebrated in the Orlando community for using Twitter, a blog, and other social media to comment on the local major league soccer team (the Orlando City Lions), largely from a historical perspective. Key to this presentation is the point that history majors can fuse the skills they are learning, such as historical context, with emerging technology to educate and inform others on a variety of topics and assert their voice in the community. Combined, these three presenters help inform history majors that they can and should employ their classroom learning outside the university prior to graduating, both to expand career options and to contribute to their communities beyond the work force. Student reflection is a cornerstone of course content. The class meetings scheduled immediately after each guest presentation are reserved for discussion of the previous session and how students reacted to it. Discussions often center on how the presenters' perspectives aligned with and differed from those of students, specific terminology used and settings described during the presentations, or the applicability of the content for students who intend to reside in the local region (central Florida). At times, discussions veer into other topics, such as the structure, purpose, and funding of the modern university or the differences between the ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor. Student reflections often prompt intense (though civil) debate about historical genres or history majors' perspectives versus those of undergraduates majoring in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or other fields. These exchanges fulfill a principal objective of the course: getting students to take ownership of their major in how they conceptualize and explain it to others. While presentations from guest speakers help students learn different perspectives on the major, another objective is to get students to participate actively in their discipline-based learning outside of the classroom. Consequently, each student must also participate in a minimum of three distinct “professionalization activities” over the duration of the semester. The nature and number of possible options changes across semesters for a variety of reasons, but all provide an opportunity for students to see history function in their communities outside of required courses. For example, during the spring 2017 semester, students had the option to participate in a History Harvest dedicated to preserving Orlando's gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community's historical materials; attend a Phi Alpha Theta workshop on how to present at an academic conference; learn how to conduct oral history interviews at a Veterans History Project workshop; observe a history faculty job candidate's research presentation to the department; or attend THATCamp Florida (an unconference on the humanities and technology), among other choices. After each event, students are required to write a one- to two-page reflection on their participation and what doing so taught them about being a history professional. While not every student enjoys these experiences, and some complain about the time obligation outside of course hours, many comment that they learned much and never would have taken part without the course requirement. The other major out-of-class assignment involves what I inaccurately label “elevator speeches.” Not held in elevators and far from speeches, these assignments require students to give an informal presentation of no more than five minutes in length addressing three core points: why they are a history major, what skills they are learning as a history major, and what careers or civic engagement they plan to pursue. Each student presents three such speeches over the semester: one to another history faculty member at UCF, one to a member of the course advisory board, and one to the instructor and their classmates during the last two weeks of the semester. Students can choose any individual from the first two categories (though only two students in total are allowed to speak to any single person) and must make all related arrangements themselves according to the schedules of those they select, thereby engaging in a professional encounter most have not previously experienced. Each student also must provide the “interviewer” with a standard evaluation form to complete and return to the instructor, and after the speech the student must chat informally with the person to gain feedback on what they said and could say in the future (a similar exchange also takes place in the classroom iteration). After their speech, each student must submit a one- to two-page reflection on their experience. The course advisory board plays an important part in the elevator-speech assignment and in student engagement with history outside of the classroom. Comprising individuals invited by the instructor each semester to participate in general course oversight and the elevator-speech assignment specifically, the advisory board also includes the director of a local history museum, a history graduate student, a lawyer working for the university who earned a history bachelor's degree, and, after the first semester, students who have successfully completed the course. Each semester, advisory board members are invited to offer feedback on how the course is structured and what is emphasized. They also suggest other potential candidates for membership and provide additional student options for possible internships. While its function is still evolving, the advisory board plays a vital role in encouraging students to interact with history advocates in an off-campus setting. In addition to fostering student interaction with the advisory board, the elevator-speech assignment serves other purposes. Foremost, it makes each student contemplate the core points addressed in the presentations and articulate a unique version based on his or her personal goals—not an easy task and one that most admitted they had never done before. In addition, the exercise prompts students to work on their oral presentation skills (with no notes in front of them) for different audiences. While some choose to present their talks to history faculty they already know, others, on their own, decide to contact faculty members whom they do not know but want to meet for a variety of reasons. A similar situation exists with the course advisory board. In addition to advice regarding the presentations, both history faculty and advisory board members become networking sources that students can use in the future to promote their career and civic engagement agendas. Not all students relish the elevator speech process or successfully complete the assignment, but the exercise encourages them to assert control over the direction of their history major careers and define for others what they are learning. In the final assignment, students create individual e-portfolios comprising their writings associated with the out-of-classroom activities. In addition to discussion postings related to course readings, students must include a one-page statement of purpose or history major philosophy, a CV, three professionalization activity reflection papers, and three elevator-speech experience reflection papers. Students may also include any other materials they deem relevant, such as announcements of honors they have received or past writing assignments for which they have earned high marks. While affiliated with UCF's electronic course management system, these e-portfolios can be maintained by students after graduation or transferred to a different online system. The course instructor encourages this as a means for each student to start and refine a portfolio of their work that can be used for a variety of postgraduation endeavors. Cocurricular Activities—Student Viewpoints The AHA History Tuning Project, “What's Next,” and active-learning advocates for both history majors and higher education in general have focused, in part, on cocurricular learning, or learning outside of the classroom through organized participation in activities that apply knowledge and skills learned in academic settings to enhance students' knowledge and competencies. For history majors, cocurricular learning may involve a variety of tasks, from internships and service learning experiences to membership in honor societies or participation in scholarly events. The key is to get students to use what they are learning in as many forums as possible to prepare them for their worlds after graduation. Professionalizing History Majors was created, in part, to expose students to the various ways they could enhance their academic careers and postgraduation prospects through cocurricular experiences.6 To assess the impact of the course, and of the history major in general, students are requested, in writing, to complete the following task at the beginning and conclusion of each semester: “Select the activities in which you were engaged during your time at UCF. (Select all that apply).” Students have twenty-three answer options for which they may write a response, including various campus social and civic organizations, study-abroad experiences, honor societies, internships, intramural sports, employment, and “other” activities. Forty-three students provided approximately 140 answers to this question over three semesters. Due to the quantity of options, student responses vary in type and number of answers chosen. Nevertheless, certain patterns emerge in the collective answers received up to this point. For example, the answers at the beginning and end of the semesters reveal significant student cocurricular involvement both before and after the course. (See table 1.) Table 1 Beginning of Semester Survey (Number of Responses)  End of Semester Survey (Number of Responses)  Change from Beginning to End of Semester  Participated in organizations related to major (12)  Participated in organizations related to major (20)  +8  Participated in professional organizations (2)  Participated in professional organizations (5)  +3  Joined an honorary society (12)  Joined an honorary society (15)  +3  Employed part time off campus (20)  Employed part time off campus (23)  +3  Beginning of Semester Survey (Number of Responses)  End of Semester Survey (Number of Responses)  Change from Beginning to End of Semester  Participated in organizations related to major (12)  Participated in organizations related to major (20)  +8  Participated in professional organizations (2)  Participated in professional organizations (5)  +3  Joined an honorary society (12)  Joined an honorary society (15)  +3  Employed part time off campus (20)  Employed part time off campus (23)  +3  View Large The greatest change in student responses before and after engaging course content involved participation in organizations connected to the major. Though the answers do not specify the organizations and their relationship to history, anecdotal evidence based on discussions in class indicates they refer to membership in Phi Alpha Theta (the history honor society) and attendance at on-campus history lectures or other events. (One requirement for the course was to attend at least three functions over the duration of the semester.) These statistics also indicate an increase from the beginning to the end of the course in the number of students participating in professional organizations (type unknown), honor societies (also reflecting a potential overlap with the “organizations related to major” answer), and off-campus employment. Aside from the last category, students' increased participation in the activities reflected in the table indicates that a key objective of Professionalizing History Majors was achieved, at least for some enrolled students. Responses to this question also tell us about the activity outside of class in which most students participate: part-time employment off campus. The number of students who indicated part-time work off campus actually increased over the semester. Student jobs ranged from supervisory positions at UPS to service staff work at local eateries, with one student regularly employed as a human billboard. In this regard UCF is typical of many public colleges and universities, where off-campus employment affects many students' opportunities to address academic assignments, not to mention their ability to spend time on discipline-related conceptualization. On a happier note, our surveys indicate that relatively high levels of student participation in community service and volunteer work, honor societies, organizations related to history (primarily Phi Alpha Theta and regional historical societies and museums) and other UCF clubs and organizations prior to enrollment in the course continued or expanded by the conclusion of the course. Regardless of limitations imposed by off-campus work responsibilities, students collectively are increasingly engaging in cocurricular activities and enhancing their discipline-related experiences outside the classroom.7 Understandings of History—Open Question Responses In addition to the question about activity participation, students in “Professionalizing History Majors may craft their own answers to certain questions at the beginning and end of each semester. Responses to open-ended questions provide another window onto what students believed they learned in the course specifically, and as history majors in general. Responses indicate a variety of viewpoints about what they learned. One question asks students, “How has your understanding of ‘what history is’ changed during your studies at UCF?” A student from the spring 2017 class answered, “I think it has helped better explain ‘what history is.’ I don't believe it has changed what my understanding is. I've always know[n] what history is but now I can show and tell people.” The interaction of historians and nonhistorians appeared in other comments. One student from the fall 2016 course asserted, “My understanding of ‘what history is’ has changed to incorporate public engagement. I previously didn't realize the extent of how historians interact with each other and the public. Now, I understand this and wish to participate in the process.” A classmate took a different angle and focused on one of the concepts covered in the course, answering, “Originally many people view History as remembering random facts. However, studying history at the advance[d] level has shown me History is about having empathy for multiple situations.” Students from the inaugural offering in spring 2016 had similar perspectives, though at times emphasized different issues. “That the lessons and skills I learned can also be applied to many jobs outside of the history field,” was one student's take-away. Another encapsulated the tone of many: “My understanding of ‘what history is’ has changed during my studies at UCF in the sense that I now recognize the many different roles that historians play in society and local communities. At first, I thought that I should go in to academia after graduation because that was the most promising job (that was secure) for a History major. However, I now understand—and explain to people—that historians have very diverse options after graduation.” Responses to questions at the end of the semesters indicate that students had expanded their understandings of the history major in two main categories: the careers it helped prepare them for and the skills they acquired through the major. Another question, specifically applying to Professionalizing History Majors, asked students, “What, if anything, in this course helped change your understanding of Historians and History?” One student from the spring 2017 cohort answered, “It showed a broader market and possibilities of what a Historian can do post degree. I wish I had known of this class sooner.” Another from the same class section responded, “This course has me think more about what I can do with my history degree and what I can specialize in. I used to just think I had very little option-wise to use my degree, but now I realize I can do a lot more with my degree than I had originally realized.” A third student from the cohort succinctly stated, “There is more to being a historian than teaching history.” Another student seemed to share that view, offering, “I only thought I could teach but with this course I have looked at other job opportunities in writing, publishing, museum work, history consulting, archival, etc.” A student from the fall 2016 semester highlighted skills, rather than careers, remarking, “This course helped me realize that in order to succeed in this field, professional skills as well as academic skills help benefit historians.” Another, echoing previous comments, emphasized approaches to history: “It helped me to discover my historical philosophy which helped me to appreciate historical empathy and become a little more open minded.” A third contended that “This course has really introduced me to history as a discipline and active endeavor with the community, rather than simply an area of interest. This course also helped me develop my own philosophy about history.” Students from the spring 2016 cohort held comparable views. “[The course] has given me a broader understanding of the requirements, expectations, and possibilities my major presents,” wrote one student. A classmate opined that “this course taught me how to articulate my skills. I also learned that being an academic historian isn't the only career option we have. In this class I learned about the importance of civic engagement, professionalizing ourselves and marketing myself as flexible.” Career directions emerged as a common theme: Another student from the spring 2016 section wrote, “It allowed me to re-examine and rethink what I want to do in terms of career. It has opened me to see outside of academia and see other possibilities, such as corporate world and use my skills in other areas in my community.” A third from the same group noted an overlooked reality in terms of history majors and their career choices: “Even if I don't work in the field, I'll always be a historian & be able to use my skills to my benefit.” Conclusions Professionalizing History Majors provides a setting and resources for students to improve how they communicate the value and benefits of their degree to a variety of audiences. Its content consists of traditional overviews of history genres, career preparation experiences, and exposure to varied discipline-related practices and people. Students in the course are assessed conventionally through quizzes and papers as well as on the collective evaluations of other faculty, advisory board members, and their peers. They gain experience relaying their ideas about the major and its benefits verbally and in writing to different audiences in different settings. Students participate in history experiences outside of the classroom they may not have participated in otherwise. Based on their formal, end-of-term evaluations, most enjoy assigned activities and view related experiences as valuable components of their undergraduate educations. Some students do not pass the course but all are exposed to perspectives on the discipline and its manifestations that they would not receive in most college and university history curricula. The UCF model for Professionalizing History Majors may not be suitable for all campuses, but it is scalable to almost any institution, and the components detailed above can be incorporated individually as appropriate. Collaboration across the institution is important to the course's impact and ideally will involve professionalization advisers from applied disciplines, experts on job preparedness from campus career centers, and alumni groups with connections to former graduates and relevant members of the community who can serve on advisory boards. Equally important, history faculty who embark on creating, teaching, and marketing such a course should expect resistance from some colleagues that will necessitate differing degrees of department cultural-change negotiation. Other challenges, with which the UCF Department of History continues to grapple, include offering such a course in an online-only environment and deciding at which point in the curriculum students should take the course. Nevertheless, Professionalizing History Majors provides a structure for teachers to equip their students with the foundations to understand and articulate their course of study and develop a vision for embracing the opportunities available to them after graduation. Students taking the course actively experience the world of history professionals in ways they generally do not in content-centered courses. Concurrently, they are exposed to different perspectives on how to apply the skills they are learning outside the classroom. Student interaction with history faculty and advisory board members through elevator speeches fosters new relationships and networking possibilities. Reflection on these experiences, individually in written form and collaboratively in class discussions, leads to greater community among history majors and diversity of approaches to using the skills they are learning for the present and future. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, students exhibit a new confidence in their major after taking the course—a confidence that promises to alter debates about the major and its usefulness to students and society in the twenty-first century. 1 James Grossman, “History Isn't a ‘Useless’ Major. It Teaches Critical Thinking, Something America Needs Plenty More Of,” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-grossman-history-major-in-decline-20160525-snap-story.html; Fred Johnson, “So What Are You Doing with That History Major?,” Jan. 1, 2017, History News Network, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/164597; Paul B. Sturtevant, “History Is Not a Useless Major: Fighting Myths with Data,” Perspectives on History, April 2007, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data. On efforts to enhance history major skills to expand graduates' career and civic engagement options, see Lendol Calder and Tracy Steffes, “Measuring College Learning in History,” in Improving Quality in Higher Education: Learning Outcomes and Assessments for the 21st Century, ed. Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa, and Amanda Cook (San Francisco, 2016), 37–86; and David Pace, “The History Classroom in an Era of Crisis,” Perspectives on History, May 2017, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/may-2017/the-history-classroom-in-an-era-of-crisis-a-change-of-course-is-needed. 2 Until the third time “Professionalizing History Majors” was offered, the course was called “History Majors in Society and Careers.” “AHA History Tuning Project: 2016 Discipline Core,” American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/tuning-the-history-discipline/2016-history-discipline-core. “What's Next: Integrative Learning for Professional and Civic Preparation,” University of Central Florida, https://undergrad.ucf.edu/whatsnext/about. 3 Daniel Murphree, Professionalizing History Majors syllabus, spring 2016, p. 1, University of Central Florida, Orlando (in Daniel Murphree's possession). 4 The term history professionals is intentionally used in teaching this course to encourage students to see themselves as credentialed practitioners of history upon graduation, regardless of the occupation they hold, rather than as untrained “buffs” or enthusiasts. Identifying themselves as professional, instead of avocational, historians is an important step in students' understanding and articulation of their discipline. Murphree, Professionalizing History Majors syllabus, 8–14. 5 “What's Next: Mission,” University of Central Florida, https://undergrad.ucf.edu/whatsnext/about/mission/. “AHA History Tuning Project.” Julia Brookins, “Nationwide Tuning Project for Undergraduate History Programs Launched,” Perspectives on History, March 2012, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2012/nationwide-tuning-project-for-undergraduate-history-programs-launched; Julia Brookins, “The Tuning Project's Summer Meeting,” ibid., Sept. 2012, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2012/the-tuning-projects-summer-meeting. I participated as a faculty member in the 2014–2015 iteration of the AHA History Tuning Project. 6 For information on cocurricular activity philosophies, see Marian J. Barber, “Paths of Progress for the History Major,” Perspectives on History, March 2012, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2012/paths-of-progress-for-the-history-major; Ira Harkavy and Bill M. Donovan, eds., Connecting Past and Present: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in History (Herndon, 2011); Ya-Rong Huang and Sheue-Mei Chang, “Academic and Cocurricular Involvement: Their Relationship and the Best Combinations for Student Growth,” Journal of College Student Development, 45 (July–Aug. 2004), 395–406; Cheryl Keen and Kelly Hall, “Post-Graduation Service and Civic Outcomes for High Financial Need Students of a Multi-campus, Co-curricular Service-Learning College Program,” Journal of College and Character, 10 (Nov. 2008), http://dx.doi.org/10.2202/1940-1639.1066. 7 University of Central Florida undergraduates appear to follow national trends in student employment while enrolled at colleges or universities. On those national trends, see Laura W. Perna, “Understanding the Working College Student,” Academe, 96 (July–Aug. 2010), https://www.aaup.org/article/understanding-working-college-student#.WYMgBrpFxPY; Doug Lederman, “The Impact of Student Employment,” Inside Higher Ed, June 8, 2009, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/08/work; and Lauren E. Watanabe, “The Effects of College Student Employment on Academic Achievement,” URJ: The University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal, 1 (March 2005), 38–47. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Journal of American History Oxford University Press

“Professionalizing History Majors”: A New Approach to Broadening the Perspectives of Undergraduates on Their Postgraduation Worlds

Loading next page...
 
/lp/ou_press/professionalizing-history-majors-a-new-approach-to-broadening-the-BVedaQ0DM1
Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.
ISSN
0021-8723
eISSN
1945-2314
D.O.I.
10.1093/jahist/jax433
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Are faculty at colleges and universities adequately preparing history majors for the twenty-first century world? Observers inside and outside of the academy frequently ask this question in various forms. History faculty have responded with different answers, some centered on curricular innovations. Many have redesigned curricula to emphasize active, student-centered learning, rethought course offerings to attract diversified audiences—often in online environments—and promoted public and digital history to foster interdisciplinary connections and enrollments. These efforts are enhancing the skills and abilities of history students in ways that will expand their career options and civic engagement. But is that enough? Despite these innovations, history majors frequently have difficulty articulating what they are learning to those outside the discipline and remain attached to the view that they have few postgraduation options other than teaching. Rather than resist arguments that the history major has little modern value, some students reaffirm their foundations by failing to understand and explain the valuable, transferable skills they are learning. Stated another way, the discipline of history is changing to respond to student and societal needs in the twenty-first century, but history majors are largely unprepared to make these arguments convincingly.1 To address this challenge, in 2015 an interdisciplinary team of faculty and administrators at the University of Central Florida (UCF) collaborated in designing a course with few parallels in U.S. colleges and universities: an introductory professionalization seminar for history majors. Rather than focus on historical content, research methodologies, or graduate school preparation, this course centers on the premise that undergraduates who decide to become history majors need to understand better their chosen discipline's varied postgraduation opportunities and become familiar with the transferable skill sets they are acquiring as they learn about the past and how to research it. Creating such a course proved daunting for many reasons. Chief among them were the lack of models from other institutions and resistance from some faculty colleagues to the idea that students in a nonapplied, humanities discipline “of the mind” should be concerned with seemingly career-oriented, job-training exercises in the history classroom. Consequently, the UCF team confronted the need to prepare history majors for their curriculum and postgraduation world and the importance of respecting concerns that courses required of history majors should not be dedicated solely to job training. The resulting discipline-centered course has greatly exceeded expectations. “Professionalizing History Majors” incorporates the principles of the American Historical Association (AHA) History Tuning Project as well as UCF's current accreditation-related Quality Enhancement Project (QEP) theme, “What's Next: Integrative Learning for Professional and Civic Preparation.” Students engage in traditional readings-based discussions, quizzes, and paper-writing assignments while actively participating in out-of-the-classroom professionalization experiences highlighted by interactions with faculty members and community advisory board members. Through these activities, enrolled students have taken ownership of their academic preparation, improved their ability to articulate what they are learning as history majors in multiple venues, and developed strategies to apply these skills and related knowledge to prepare for postgraduation endeavors within and outside of graduate school. Those who successfully complete the class can explain why they are history majors and argue the merits of the degree for society.2 Overview of Course Content As a public, metropolitan, research university, UCF annually enrolls more than sixty thousand students, with approximately four hundred history majors. Well over half of those pursuing history as a bachelor's degree major have transferred from other institutions, mostly community colleges (labeled “state colleges” in Florida). Many history majors later enter the master's degree program in history with a small percentage eventually pursuing Ph.D. work in the field. While the department of history is only now beginning to compile statistics on history majors' postgraduation destinations, anecdotal evidence indicates that most typically pursue a variety of occupations in central Florida. These factors helped guide the content of Professionalizing History Majors. According to the syllabus distributed to enrolled students, the primary goal of the course is to enhance History majors' understanding of the opportunities they will encounter in both modern society and their post-graduation careers. Primary emphasis will be placed on the role of History professionals in civic life and workplace endeavors by familiarizing students with the transferable skills they will learn as History majors. In addition, students in this course will learn how to better articulate for different post-graduation audiences the abilities and knowledge they have obtained as History majors. Overall, this course is designed to help History Majors better understand their chosen discipline and how it will prepare them for life after UCF.3 Accordingly, the course functions as an introduction to basic historiography and disciplinary mechanics, broadly conceived, as well as a professional development primer similar in design to offerings for applied fields at UCF and other universities. Students learn about the skills they are acquiring as history majors, become familiar with the best ways to articulate their discipline-related knowledge to others outside the major, and enhance their exposure to the lives of history professionals, both inside and outside the academy. In addition to completing quizzes, discussion postings, reflection papers, and e-portfolios, students are evaluated in their ability to convey their rationales, skills, and goals as history majors through brief interviews with history faculty and course advisory board members outside class. Students receive in-class presentations (by the instructor and guest speakers) on: Self-Assessment: Skills, Goals, Opportunities Academic Historians and Historiography Public Historians and Non-Academic History History Majors and Non-History Careers Transferable Skills: Understanding and Articulating Them History Majors and Civic Life Experiential Learning and Internships Ideally, by the conclusion of the course, students have a greater understanding of what the history major offers and how they need to communicate what they are learning to become effective history professionals upon graduation, regardless of the path they follow.4 The design of Professionalizing History Majors also is heavily influenced by the QEP “What's Next” and the AHA History Tuning Project. Initiated as part of the university's reaccreditation process, “What's Next” focuses on better preparing UCF students in all disciplines for the professional opportunities they will encounter upon graduation. Students are encouraged to begin planning their postgraduation goals early in their academic careers, focus on how the skills they are learning will transfer to off-campus jobs and civic engagement endeavors, and “advocate for themselves in their lives beyond the university.” Similarly, yet more discipline-targeted, the AHA History Tuning Project is an effort “to articulate the core of historical study and to identify what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program.” In 2012, as part of this project, an initial cohort of sixty-five history educators from colleges and universities around the country agreed to collaborate in formulating core objectives, in the process clarifying the skills that recipients of a history degree can use for “personal development, civic engagement, and career potential.”5 Specific Course Activities The topics covered in Professionalizing History Majors stem from meetings involving a number of campus constituencies brought together to advise on and help implement the QEP. Colleagues in the department of history lobbied for a course that introduced the fundamentals of history instruction, with coverage of historiography, different history genres and professions, and what historians do outside of the classroom. Personnel from UCF Career Services suggested exposing students to the information and experiences needed by all undergraduates to market themselves to employers, such as resume construction and job interview practice. The head of advising for the College of Business, who holds a master's degree in history, championed as many applied, out-of-class professionalization experiences as possible for students to demonstrate and hone the skills they are acquiring as history majors. All who advised on the course's development encouraged a rigorous curriculum that challenged students to leave their comfort zones and explore the many opportunities to augment their education but often were not using. From the beginning, those involved in these discussions envisioned this course as a model for other departments at UCF that lacked similar offerings for students majoring in their disciplines. In the resulting course, the world of professional historians serves as the starting place. Our department historiography specialist visits the class to introduce students to historiography, stressing that students should use the skills they learn for contextualizing history-related methodological and interpretive discussions when engaging ongoing societal debates related to politics, culture, and other issues. The following week a faculty member in the department's public history program provides an overview of the field and how it differs from and aligns with the “academic” history emphasized in the historiography talk. Both presenters explain that neither academic nor public historians work exclusively on college and university campuses, and they provide examples of different careers and their settings for practitioners of either historical genre. A third presenter, the College of Business adviser, discusses the jobs he has had, including as a used-car salesman and as a human resources director, while also conveying the applicability of skills learned as a history student. Across these different topics, all presenters focus on the numerous ways students can apply skills learned as history majors in postgraduation careers, a prominent theme of the course. Presentations on general postgraduation preparation follow these history-oriented topics. Twice during the semester, the class meets in the UCF Career Services office, a place only a few students had visited (or even knew existed). The first session focuses on how students can assess the skills they have and those they want, what their career and noncareer goals are and may be in the future, and how to capitalize on both. A career services adviser facilitates individual and group introspection related to the history major, pushing students to consider more factors than just their love of the subject when completing the requirements of the major. A few weeks later, the career services director gives a presentation in which students identify the skills and knowledge they are obtaining as history majors. While many students initially focus on teaching and research broadly construed, by the end of the presentations some find it difficult to keep track of the different manifestations of writing, communicating, organizing, evaluating, interpreting, and analyzing that can be used in a number of jobs having little to do with professional history. Other sessions deal specifically with the ways students can learn more about their profession and apply the skills they have learned prior to graduation. Two presenters, from the UCF Department of History and the UCF Office of Experiential Learning, explain the value of internships. Approaching the subject from different perspectives, the history internship coordinator informs students of the varied semester-length opportunities for working in regional, national, and international archives, libraries, museums, and history societies, while the experiential learning internship coordinator focuses on non-history-specific internships in nonprofit, private business, and government positions to enhance students' disciplinary skills. The presentations converge on the importance of internships in developing skills, fashioning professional networks, and expanding the scope of the students' résumés and CVS. These experiences augment another presentation on using skills learned as a history major for civic engagement. The presenter is a master's degree student (UCF has no history Ph.D. program) who has become celebrated in the Orlando community for using Twitter, a blog, and other social media to comment on the local major league soccer team (the Orlando City Lions), largely from a historical perspective. Key to this presentation is the point that history majors can fuse the skills they are learning, such as historical context, with emerging technology to educate and inform others on a variety of topics and assert their voice in the community. Combined, these three presenters help inform history majors that they can and should employ their classroom learning outside the university prior to graduating, both to expand career options and to contribute to their communities beyond the work force. Student reflection is a cornerstone of course content. The class meetings scheduled immediately after each guest presentation are reserved for discussion of the previous session and how students reacted to it. Discussions often center on how the presenters' perspectives aligned with and differed from those of students, specific terminology used and settings described during the presentations, or the applicability of the content for students who intend to reside in the local region (central Florida). At times, discussions veer into other topics, such as the structure, purpose, and funding of the modern university or the differences between the ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor. Student reflections often prompt intense (though civil) debate about historical genres or history majors' perspectives versus those of undergraduates majoring in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or other fields. These exchanges fulfill a principal objective of the course: getting students to take ownership of their major in how they conceptualize and explain it to others. While presentations from guest speakers help students learn different perspectives on the major, another objective is to get students to participate actively in their discipline-based learning outside of the classroom. Consequently, each student must also participate in a minimum of three distinct “professionalization activities” over the duration of the semester. The nature and number of possible options changes across semesters for a variety of reasons, but all provide an opportunity for students to see history function in their communities outside of required courses. For example, during the spring 2017 semester, students had the option to participate in a History Harvest dedicated to preserving Orlando's gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community's historical materials; attend a Phi Alpha Theta workshop on how to present at an academic conference; learn how to conduct oral history interviews at a Veterans History Project workshop; observe a history faculty job candidate's research presentation to the department; or attend THATCamp Florida (an unconference on the humanities and technology), among other choices. After each event, students are required to write a one- to two-page reflection on their participation and what doing so taught them about being a history professional. While not every student enjoys these experiences, and some complain about the time obligation outside of course hours, many comment that they learned much and never would have taken part without the course requirement. The other major out-of-class assignment involves what I inaccurately label “elevator speeches.” Not held in elevators and far from speeches, these assignments require students to give an informal presentation of no more than five minutes in length addressing three core points: why they are a history major, what skills they are learning as a history major, and what careers or civic engagement they plan to pursue. Each student presents three such speeches over the semester: one to another history faculty member at UCF, one to a member of the course advisory board, and one to the instructor and their classmates during the last two weeks of the semester. Students can choose any individual from the first two categories (though only two students in total are allowed to speak to any single person) and must make all related arrangements themselves according to the schedules of those they select, thereby engaging in a professional encounter most have not previously experienced. Each student also must provide the “interviewer” with a standard evaluation form to complete and return to the instructor, and after the speech the student must chat informally with the person to gain feedback on what they said and could say in the future (a similar exchange also takes place in the classroom iteration). After their speech, each student must submit a one- to two-page reflection on their experience. The course advisory board plays an important part in the elevator-speech assignment and in student engagement with history outside of the classroom. Comprising individuals invited by the instructor each semester to participate in general course oversight and the elevator-speech assignment specifically, the advisory board also includes the director of a local history museum, a history graduate student, a lawyer working for the university who earned a history bachelor's degree, and, after the first semester, students who have successfully completed the course. Each semester, advisory board members are invited to offer feedback on how the course is structured and what is emphasized. They also suggest other potential candidates for membership and provide additional student options for possible internships. While its function is still evolving, the advisory board plays a vital role in encouraging students to interact with history advocates in an off-campus setting. In addition to fostering student interaction with the advisory board, the elevator-speech assignment serves other purposes. Foremost, it makes each student contemplate the core points addressed in the presentations and articulate a unique version based on his or her personal goals—not an easy task and one that most admitted they had never done before. In addition, the exercise prompts students to work on their oral presentation skills (with no notes in front of them) for different audiences. While some choose to present their talks to history faculty they already know, others, on their own, decide to contact faculty members whom they do not know but want to meet for a variety of reasons. A similar situation exists with the course advisory board. In addition to advice regarding the presentations, both history faculty and advisory board members become networking sources that students can use in the future to promote their career and civic engagement agendas. Not all students relish the elevator speech process or successfully complete the assignment, but the exercise encourages them to assert control over the direction of their history major careers and define for others what they are learning. In the final assignment, students create individual e-portfolios comprising their writings associated with the out-of-classroom activities. In addition to discussion postings related to course readings, students must include a one-page statement of purpose or history major philosophy, a CV, three professionalization activity reflection papers, and three elevator-speech experience reflection papers. Students may also include any other materials they deem relevant, such as announcements of honors they have received or past writing assignments for which they have earned high marks. While affiliated with UCF's electronic course management system, these e-portfolios can be maintained by students after graduation or transferred to a different online system. The course instructor encourages this as a means for each student to start and refine a portfolio of their work that can be used for a variety of postgraduation endeavors. Cocurricular Activities—Student Viewpoints The AHA History Tuning Project, “What's Next,” and active-learning advocates for both history majors and higher education in general have focused, in part, on cocurricular learning, or learning outside of the classroom through organized participation in activities that apply knowledge and skills learned in academic settings to enhance students' knowledge and competencies. For history majors, cocurricular learning may involve a variety of tasks, from internships and service learning experiences to membership in honor societies or participation in scholarly events. The key is to get students to use what they are learning in as many forums as possible to prepare them for their worlds after graduation. Professionalizing History Majors was created, in part, to expose students to the various ways they could enhance their academic careers and postgraduation prospects through cocurricular experiences.6 To assess the impact of the course, and of the history major in general, students are requested, in writing, to complete the following task at the beginning and conclusion of each semester: “Select the activities in which you were engaged during your time at UCF. (Select all that apply).” Students have twenty-three answer options for which they may write a response, including various campus social and civic organizations, study-abroad experiences, honor societies, internships, intramural sports, employment, and “other” activities. Forty-three students provided approximately 140 answers to this question over three semesters. Due to the quantity of options, student responses vary in type and number of answers chosen. Nevertheless, certain patterns emerge in the collective answers received up to this point. For example, the answers at the beginning and end of the semesters reveal significant student cocurricular involvement both before and after the course. (See table 1.) Table 1 Beginning of Semester Survey (Number of Responses)  End of Semester Survey (Number of Responses)  Change from Beginning to End of Semester  Participated in organizations related to major (12)  Participated in organizations related to major (20)  +8  Participated in professional organizations (2)  Participated in professional organizations (5)  +3  Joined an honorary society (12)  Joined an honorary society (15)  +3  Employed part time off campus (20)  Employed part time off campus (23)  +3  Beginning of Semester Survey (Number of Responses)  End of Semester Survey (Number of Responses)  Change from Beginning to End of Semester  Participated in organizations related to major (12)  Participated in organizations related to major (20)  +8  Participated in professional organizations (2)  Participated in professional organizations (5)  +3  Joined an honorary society (12)  Joined an honorary society (15)  +3  Employed part time off campus (20)  Employed part time off campus (23)  +3  View Large The greatest change in student responses before and after engaging course content involved participation in organizations connected to the major. Though the answers do not specify the organizations and their relationship to history, anecdotal evidence based on discussions in class indicates they refer to membership in Phi Alpha Theta (the history honor society) and attendance at on-campus history lectures or other events. (One requirement for the course was to attend at least three functions over the duration of the semester.) These statistics also indicate an increase from the beginning to the end of the course in the number of students participating in professional organizations (type unknown), honor societies (also reflecting a potential overlap with the “organizations related to major” answer), and off-campus employment. Aside from the last category, students' increased participation in the activities reflected in the table indicates that a key objective of Professionalizing History Majors was achieved, at least for some enrolled students. Responses to this question also tell us about the activity outside of class in which most students participate: part-time employment off campus. The number of students who indicated part-time work off campus actually increased over the semester. Student jobs ranged from supervisory positions at UPS to service staff work at local eateries, with one student regularly employed as a human billboard. In this regard UCF is typical of many public colleges and universities, where off-campus employment affects many students' opportunities to address academic assignments, not to mention their ability to spend time on discipline-related conceptualization. On a happier note, our surveys indicate that relatively high levels of student participation in community service and volunteer work, honor societies, organizations related to history (primarily Phi Alpha Theta and regional historical societies and museums) and other UCF clubs and organizations prior to enrollment in the course continued or expanded by the conclusion of the course. Regardless of limitations imposed by off-campus work responsibilities, students collectively are increasingly engaging in cocurricular activities and enhancing their discipline-related experiences outside the classroom.7 Understandings of History—Open Question Responses In addition to the question about activity participation, students in “Professionalizing History Majors may craft their own answers to certain questions at the beginning and end of each semester. Responses to open-ended questions provide another window onto what students believed they learned in the course specifically, and as history majors in general. Responses indicate a variety of viewpoints about what they learned. One question asks students, “How has your understanding of ‘what history is’ changed during your studies at UCF?” A student from the spring 2017 class answered, “I think it has helped better explain ‘what history is.’ I don't believe it has changed what my understanding is. I've always know[n] what history is but now I can show and tell people.” The interaction of historians and nonhistorians appeared in other comments. One student from the fall 2016 course asserted, “My understanding of ‘what history is’ has changed to incorporate public engagement. I previously didn't realize the extent of how historians interact with each other and the public. Now, I understand this and wish to participate in the process.” A classmate took a different angle and focused on one of the concepts covered in the course, answering, “Originally many people view History as remembering random facts. However, studying history at the advance[d] level has shown me History is about having empathy for multiple situations.” Students from the inaugural offering in spring 2016 had similar perspectives, though at times emphasized different issues. “That the lessons and skills I learned can also be applied to many jobs outside of the history field,” was one student's take-away. Another encapsulated the tone of many: “My understanding of ‘what history is’ has changed during my studies at UCF in the sense that I now recognize the many different roles that historians play in society and local communities. At first, I thought that I should go in to academia after graduation because that was the most promising job (that was secure) for a History major. However, I now understand—and explain to people—that historians have very diverse options after graduation.” Responses to questions at the end of the semesters indicate that students had expanded their understandings of the history major in two main categories: the careers it helped prepare them for and the skills they acquired through the major. Another question, specifically applying to Professionalizing History Majors, asked students, “What, if anything, in this course helped change your understanding of Historians and History?” One student from the spring 2017 cohort answered, “It showed a broader market and possibilities of what a Historian can do post degree. I wish I had known of this class sooner.” Another from the same class section responded, “This course has me think more about what I can do with my history degree and what I can specialize in. I used to just think I had very little option-wise to use my degree, but now I realize I can do a lot more with my degree than I had originally realized.” A third student from the cohort succinctly stated, “There is more to being a historian than teaching history.” Another student seemed to share that view, offering, “I only thought I could teach but with this course I have looked at other job opportunities in writing, publishing, museum work, history consulting, archival, etc.” A student from the fall 2016 semester highlighted skills, rather than careers, remarking, “This course helped me realize that in order to succeed in this field, professional skills as well as academic skills help benefit historians.” Another, echoing previous comments, emphasized approaches to history: “It helped me to discover my historical philosophy which helped me to appreciate historical empathy and become a little more open minded.” A third contended that “This course has really introduced me to history as a discipline and active endeavor with the community, rather than simply an area of interest. This course also helped me develop my own philosophy about history.” Students from the spring 2016 cohort held comparable views. “[The course] has given me a broader understanding of the requirements, expectations, and possibilities my major presents,” wrote one student. A classmate opined that “this course taught me how to articulate my skills. I also learned that being an academic historian isn't the only career option we have. In this class I learned about the importance of civic engagement, professionalizing ourselves and marketing myself as flexible.” Career directions emerged as a common theme: Another student from the spring 2016 section wrote, “It allowed me to re-examine and rethink what I want to do in terms of career. It has opened me to see outside of academia and see other possibilities, such as corporate world and use my skills in other areas in my community.” A third from the same group noted an overlooked reality in terms of history majors and their career choices: “Even if I don't work in the field, I'll always be a historian & be able to use my skills to my benefit.” Conclusions Professionalizing History Majors provides a setting and resources for students to improve how they communicate the value and benefits of their degree to a variety of audiences. Its content consists of traditional overviews of history genres, career preparation experiences, and exposure to varied discipline-related practices and people. Students in the course are assessed conventionally through quizzes and papers as well as on the collective evaluations of other faculty, advisory board members, and their peers. They gain experience relaying their ideas about the major and its benefits verbally and in writing to different audiences in different settings. Students participate in history experiences outside of the classroom they may not have participated in otherwise. Based on their formal, end-of-term evaluations, most enjoy assigned activities and view related experiences as valuable components of their undergraduate educations. Some students do not pass the course but all are exposed to perspectives on the discipline and its manifestations that they would not receive in most college and university history curricula. The UCF model for Professionalizing History Majors may not be suitable for all campuses, but it is scalable to almost any institution, and the components detailed above can be incorporated individually as appropriate. Collaboration across the institution is important to the course's impact and ideally will involve professionalization advisers from applied disciplines, experts on job preparedness from campus career centers, and alumni groups with connections to former graduates and relevant members of the community who can serve on advisory boards. Equally important, history faculty who embark on creating, teaching, and marketing such a course should expect resistance from some colleagues that will necessitate differing degrees of department cultural-change negotiation. Other challenges, with which the UCF Department of History continues to grapple, include offering such a course in an online-only environment and deciding at which point in the curriculum students should take the course. Nevertheless, Professionalizing History Majors provides a structure for teachers to equip their students with the foundations to understand and articulate their course of study and develop a vision for embracing the opportunities available to them after graduation. Students taking the course actively experience the world of history professionals in ways they generally do not in content-centered courses. Concurrently, they are exposed to different perspectives on how to apply the skills they are learning outside the classroom. Student interaction with history faculty and advisory board members through elevator speeches fosters new relationships and networking possibilities. Reflection on these experiences, individually in written form and collaboratively in class discussions, leads to greater community among history majors and diversity of approaches to using the skills they are learning for the present and future. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, students exhibit a new confidence in their major after taking the course—a confidence that promises to alter debates about the major and its usefulness to students and society in the twenty-first century. 1 James Grossman, “History Isn't a ‘Useless’ Major. It Teaches Critical Thinking, Something America Needs Plenty More Of,” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-grossman-history-major-in-decline-20160525-snap-story.html; Fred Johnson, “So What Are You Doing with That History Major?,” Jan. 1, 2017, History News Network, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/164597; Paul B. Sturtevant, “History Is Not a Useless Major: Fighting Myths with Data,” Perspectives on History, April 2007, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data. On efforts to enhance history major skills to expand graduates' career and civic engagement options, see Lendol Calder and Tracy Steffes, “Measuring College Learning in History,” in Improving Quality in Higher Education: Learning Outcomes and Assessments for the 21st Century, ed. Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa, and Amanda Cook (San Francisco, 2016), 37–86; and David Pace, “The History Classroom in an Era of Crisis,” Perspectives on History, May 2017, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/may-2017/the-history-classroom-in-an-era-of-crisis-a-change-of-course-is-needed. 2 Until the third time “Professionalizing History Majors” was offered, the course was called “History Majors in Society and Careers.” “AHA History Tuning Project: 2016 Discipline Core,” American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/tuning-the-history-discipline/2016-history-discipline-core. “What's Next: Integrative Learning for Professional and Civic Preparation,” University of Central Florida, https://undergrad.ucf.edu/whatsnext/about. 3 Daniel Murphree, Professionalizing History Majors syllabus, spring 2016, p. 1, University of Central Florida, Orlando (in Daniel Murphree's possession). 4 The term history professionals is intentionally used in teaching this course to encourage students to see themselves as credentialed practitioners of history upon graduation, regardless of the occupation they hold, rather than as untrained “buffs” or enthusiasts. Identifying themselves as professional, instead of avocational, historians is an important step in students' understanding and articulation of their discipline. Murphree, Professionalizing History Majors syllabus, 8–14. 5 “What's Next: Mission,” University of Central Florida, https://undergrad.ucf.edu/whatsnext/about/mission/. “AHA History Tuning Project.” Julia Brookins, “Nationwide Tuning Project for Undergraduate History Programs Launched,” Perspectives on History, March 2012, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2012/nationwide-tuning-project-for-undergraduate-history-programs-launched; Julia Brookins, “The Tuning Project's Summer Meeting,” ibid., Sept. 2012, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2012/the-tuning-projects-summer-meeting. I participated as a faculty member in the 2014–2015 iteration of the AHA History Tuning Project. 6 For information on cocurricular activity philosophies, see Marian J. Barber, “Paths of Progress for the History Major,” Perspectives on History, March 2012, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2012/paths-of-progress-for-the-history-major; Ira Harkavy and Bill M. Donovan, eds., Connecting Past and Present: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in History (Herndon, 2011); Ya-Rong Huang and Sheue-Mei Chang, “Academic and Cocurricular Involvement: Their Relationship and the Best Combinations for Student Growth,” Journal of College Student Development, 45 (July–Aug. 2004), 395–406; Cheryl Keen and Kelly Hall, “Post-Graduation Service and Civic Outcomes for High Financial Need Students of a Multi-campus, Co-curricular Service-Learning College Program,” Journal of College and Character, 10 (Nov. 2008), http://dx.doi.org/10.2202/1940-1639.1066. 7 University of Central Florida undergraduates appear to follow national trends in student employment while enrolled at colleges or universities. On those national trends, see Laura W. Perna, “Understanding the Working College Student,” Academe, 96 (July–Aug. 2010), https://www.aaup.org/article/understanding-working-college-student#.WYMgBrpFxPY; Doug Lederman, “The Impact of Student Employment,” Inside Higher Ed, June 8, 2009, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/08/work; and Lauren E. Watanabe, “The Effects of College Student Employment on Academic Achievement,” URJ: The University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal, 1 (March 2005), 38–47. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.

Journal

The Journal of American HistoryOxford University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2018

There are no references for this article.

You’re reading a free preview. Subscribe to read the entire article.


DeepDyve is your
personal research library

It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.

Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.

All for just $49/month

Explore the DeepDyve Library

Search

Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly

Organize

Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.

Access

Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.

Your journals are on DeepDyve

Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.

All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.

See the journals in your area

DeepDyve

Freelancer

DeepDyve

Pro

Price

FREE

$49/month
$360/year

Save searches from
Google Scholar,
PubMed

Create lists to
organize your research

Export lists, citations

Read DeepDyve articles

Abstract access only

Unlimited access to over
18 million full-text articles

Print

20 pages / month

PDF Discount

20% off