Why major in History? Our alums explain

April BondhusApril Bondhus, History '17
Rudawski & Associates, P.A.

Why did you choose the History major?
I chose to become a history major because I felt it was important to understand the historical explanations of current issues.  I have always been interested in politics, but I am more interested in the explanations of political issues than the issues themselves.  The history major allows me to look at any issue in today's society and use my historical knowledge to explain where this issue came from and why it is still affecting society.

Favorite History class?
Gender in U.S. History with Shannon Smith.  I am very interesting in looking at historical events through the lens of gender.  I find it fascinating when I look at an event I had previously studied and realize how gender affected that event and the people involved in it.  In this class we got to study a large timeline of events that have been affected by gender throughout history.  It was exciting to get to do a gender analysis of so many events where gender has been previously overlooked.

Nicole KoonceNicole Koonce, History '15
Risk Management Specialist
Hiway Federal Credit Union

Why did you choose to major in History?
My favorite classes in high school were history classes, so I thought I'd continue that path in college. Luckily, I loved it here even more. There's something about the way history changes over time and with different perspectives that gets me. An event is defined by what people said about it afterwards, and that is where the work of a history major comes in. That's what I love about it-sifting through those layers and figuring out where different arguments are coming from.

Favorite History class?
Cold War Europe with Dr. Schroeder really impacted who I am as a history student. We read about the historical memory at the Auschwitz museum, and Milan Kundera's The Joke, and gender politics in East and West Germany. All of those things still linger in my mind. 

Something else about you?
I am hoping to explore a few different paths, including local government, historical societies, and non-profit work. I want to do something creative and tangible for a community that also combines the things that I love about history-solving puzzles and analyzing perspectives.

Dana HicksDana Hicks, History '14 
Graduate Student
Black Hills State University

Why did you choose to major in History? 
I have always loved reading about and discussing the past. One day it occurred to me that I could study it for more than just fun. I also enjoy telling stories and writing. I suppose both of those probably made history a clear decision!

Favorite History class?
That's a tough choice! Each class had its merits! I perhaps liked modern history courses the best. I took modern German, modern Japanese, and modern Chinese history classes. I enjoy learning about the late 19th and early 20th century. It is where familiar ideas about culture, society, and art developed into forms we recognize today.

Something else about you?
I have published a science fiction anthology:  Lost Upon the Isle of Serenity

Erik Nagaoka, History '13
Consumer Safety Officer

Why did you choose to major in History?

I was always interested in American history. I appreciated the fact that history would require critical thinking, research, analysis and effective writing. I was not entirely sure what I would wind up doing with my degree, but I was confident History would prepare me for whatever future job I may have.

Favorite History class?
HIST 395: History of the American West, with Dr. Larson

Advice to students?
I am currently an Investigator with FDA in South East Virginia, Baltimore District. My job does not directly utilize my history degree in a strict sense, however I am able to incorporate many of the secondary attributes of my degree. For example, when dealing with Domestic Inspections, I am required to do some research on the history of the firm and prior inspections. This requires me to read and comprehend data quickly. Also, after the inspection, I am required to write a report on my findings. This utilizes the writing tools I learned as a History major. It requires organization, flow, and a clear conclusion as to my findings.

Finally, Import investigations require critical thinking, problem solving, and quick analysis. History has helped sharpen these tools because often times you are required to read long books in a very short period of time and then write a report on your study. You just simply do not have the luxury of being able to take your time!

Overall, I think this is one of many examples as to how a History degree is very multidimensional and can actually be cross-disciplinary. Although I work in a scientific and investigative field, I always find myself thinking back to my days in History class and actively trying to incorporate those academic skills into my job.

Margaret FreeMargaret Free, History '13
Pediatric Residency
Unity Point Health, SD

Why did you choose to major in History?
After I chose the pre-medicine track, I wanted to study something unrelated to science to get more variety in my classes. After taking European History with Dr. Schroeder in the fall of my sophomore year, I knew I had made the right choice.

Favorite History class?
My favorite history classes were U.S. Since the 1960s with Dr. Jones and European History with Dr. Schroeder. Both were fascinating courses that enriched my perspective on society today.

Advice to other students?
After you graduate college, when you tell people that you were a history major, they look at you differently. They take you seriously and recognize you as a person who is truly well educated.

Tyler KinsellaTyler Kinsella, History '11
Collections Assistant
Scott County Historical Society, MN

Why did you choose to major in History? Discovering how past events influenced each other and our current world has always fascinated me.  I enjoyed all the history courses I'd taken during high school and felt that pursuing a degree in history would be right for me.

Favorite History class? Thesis with Dr. Larson, it allowed me to fully research a topic of my choosing and solidified writing and research skills which have served me well through graduate school and my professional life.

Advice to students? Volunteer with local history organizations and begin looking at graduate schools (I received my MA in Public History in 2015), if history is a field you'd like to work in.  

Something else about you? I studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria and played rugby at SJU for three years.

Alyssa GerszewskiAlyssa Gerszewski, History '10
National Register Historian
Texas Historical Commission, Austin, TX

Why did you choose to major in History?
I loved history since I was a child, especially historic places. I was fascinated by the past and how different events shaped different outcomes.

Favorite History class?
I had an amazing experience at CSB/SJU!  There are too many to name!

Advice to students?
It is possible to get a good job in the field of history, but it will require some patience and hard work. Talk to your professors and other career professionals on campus. Do your research by looking at job postings in the field.  This will give you an idea of the job opportunities, skills needed, educational requirements, and salary. Don’t be afraid to talk with people or alums working in the field and ask them about their work and how they got their job.

Something else about you?
My interest in Public History led me to continue working with local history eventually pursuing a Master’s Degree where I focused on Urban History and Historic Preservation. My research, writing, analytical, and public speaking skills allowed me to work in Historic Preservation in both local and state government. I currently work as a National Register Historian at the Texas Historical Commission in Austin, Texas. I review projects from all over the state and provide technical guidance to consultants and members of the public. In essence, I help applicants get significant buildings and sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This allows me to travel across the state and research and learn about some pretty fascinating places.

Teresa Walch

Teresa Walch, History '10
Zvi Yavets Postdoctoral Fellow 
Tel Aviv University

Why did you choose to major in History?
Because I love history.  I started out at CSB/SJU as undecided between History and Chemistry, and after my freshman year, I decided to follow my passion and be a history major (with a second major in German).  But I knew history was not just a "hobby" for me; I wanted to try and make a career out of it.

Favorite History class?
My favorite history classes at CSB/SJU were Modern Germany & Russian History with Dr. Schroeder and "US and the World" with Dr. Jones.  Both Dr. Schroeder and Dr. Jones led challenging but very rewarding classes.  They crafted excellent syllabi, selecting interesting texts to read, and they made classes interesting through small and large class discussions and debates. Thanks to their excellent feedback on papers, I also greatly improved my writing in their classes.

Ann KollerAnn Koller, History '10
Programming/Staffing Manager
Wilderness Inquiry

Why did you choose to major in History?
I had no idea what I wanted to major in when I began college but my history classes caught my attention right way.  I love learning about the stories of our past and how they impact our present.

Favorite History class?
I took a class on women's history that I really enjoyed.  I felt very connected to the women's stories which always brings history to life for me.

Advice to students?
My background is in experiential education.  I do a lot of work with outdoor and place-based education, teaching people about the environments.  It focuses on the history of places particularly in regards to how the environment impacts us and how people relate to and impact their environments.

Leah JusterLeah Juster, History '09
Internship Program Associate
Minnesota Historical Society

Why did you choose to major in History?
I started as a biology major, but my first year symposium professor asked a very important question: What kind of people do you want to spend the rest of your life with?  I have always enjoyed history, especially how it surrounds us and connects us to everything. I decided I wanted to delve deeper into this passion and pursue a career surrounded by people who appreciate the stories of the past and how they link us to the future.

Favorite History class?
My favorite class was my 200 History Colloquium class. The topic was the history of CSB/SJU, and we got to work on several projects of our choice. For our final project, we researched the history of the two institutions working together and created "The Link: Not Just a Bus" as an exhibit in Alcuin Library. It was through that project that I discovered my love of disseminating history by way of physical exhibits. It inspired me to continue my education and get my Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies.

Something else about you?
I am the Internship Program Associate at the Minnesota Historical Society. I coordinate over 150 college and high school students each year, placing students in different departments across the Society. My history major gives me an appreciation for the work MNHS does as an organization, and my museum studies background lends me a specific lens through which I view our operations. While not every intern comes to us with an interest in history, they come to know its importance through the work they do. In short, I am connecting students to history through meaningful experiences at a historical institution.

Audrey GabeAudrey Gabe, History '09
Prevention Specialist
Lifeworks, U of T, Austin

Why did you choose to major in History?
History is everything! You can't understand anything in this world if you don't first consider the history.  I always loved learning about historical subjects and seeing the connections between the past and present. Many people think history is just remembering names and dates, but I saw it more as meeting new people from the past to understand why our world is the way it is. It was also fascinating to realize that we are all making history simply by participating in life!

Favorite History class?
The U.S. Women's History courses I took with Martha Tomhave-Blauvelt (retired) showed me that there are alternative perspectives for understanding the past (and present!), as well as how factors of privilege can suppress or enhance how people are remembered. I also learned that historically influential women were really just regular people who didn't care that others thought they were crazy for going against the grain.

Something else about you?
I received a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin and currently work in youth development at the Austin non-profit LifeWorks. As a social worker, I'm so grateful for my history degree! Having a background in history equips me to explore the larger context of people's lives, and the various factors at play that can either empower or hinder self-sufficiency. Effective advocacy work includes considering what (and how) past actions or events lead to current inequalities. For example, I recently went to a presentation on the history of local zoning laws and their influence on major segregation that still exists today. Knowing how to evaluate the past helps me find solutions to improve people's lives.

Sarah HawkinsSarah Hawkins, History '09 Resource Librarian
East Central Regional Library

Why did you choose to major in History? That's easy.  I chose the History major because I had loved History, both studying it in middle and high school and learning from my dad.  From fairly early on in my time at CSB/SJU, I knew I was going to be going to grad school to get my MS in Library and Information Science, and that my undergraduate degree could be in anything to get there. So I chose to study what I enjoyed!

Favorite History class? I didn't have a single History class that I disliked.  I always seemed to end up in classes taught by Dave Bennetts, Julie Davis, and Ken Jones so I'd say they were my favorites!  The class that was most directly and practically applicable to my career today is the Public History course taught by Julie Davis.  The skills I learned there have been immensely helpful in my career as a librarian responsible for cultural heritage digitization projects and creating online exhibitions.

Advice to students? I am the Resource Librarian for East Central Regional Library, a 6-county consolidated regional public library system, headquartered in Cambridge, Minnesota.  As the Resource Librarian I am responsible for overseeing our resources in all formats, including selection and de-selection. I provide staff and patron training and training materials in using those resources, and provide reference service (mostly digitally) to patrons and staff.  I also manage our online presence, both social media accounts and our website.

Savo HeletaSavo Heleta, History '06
Researcher: Internationalization, Conflict Analysis, Post Conflict Reconstruction

Nelson Mandela University

Why did you choose to major in History?
After taking Sub-Saharan Africa with Professor Curran.

Your favorite History class?
Sub-Saharan Africa history with professor Cynthia Curran.  I've learned so much in that class, I decided to take history as my major, and decided to go to South Africa during my study abroad program (which completely changed my life in a best way possible - I decided to write a book on that trip and to come back to South Africa.

Advice to students?
Challenge yourself by taking classes that cover topics you know nothing about.  You may discover so many things about yourself that you never knew.

Kathryn Enger EnkeKathryn Enger Enke, History '05
Chief of Staff/Title IX Coordinator
College of Saint Benedict, MN

Why did you choose to major in History?
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, career-wise, so I opted for studying something I loved and using the skills gained in a variety of classes to prepare for a range of job options.  I found learning about history to be fascinating, and reflecting on the past helped me understand the contemporary world in a new and very applicable way.

Favorite History class?
I enjoyed Ken Jones' course using film to investigate how the understandings of historical events change over time.  I like thinking about the ways that "truth" is relative and history is fluid.

Advice to students?
A history major teaches all of those useful liberal arts skills: critical thinking, capacity for lifelong learning, ethical judgment, cross-cultural understanding, global awareness, understanding the relationships between people and systems, and competence in assessing and using facts. It is useful preparation for just about any career, and it is immensely relevant to productive citizenship and engagement in the contemporary world.

Matt PaulMatt Paul, History '05
Director, Policy/Measurement/Innovation Division
New Mexico Public Education Department, NM

Why did you choose to major in History?
Dr. Schroeder's European Experience class during my sophomore year did it for me.  At that point in time, Dr. Schroeder's class challenged me far more than any other course I had taken at St. John's.  I soon realized that the major would continue to challenge me in the same manner while giving me insight on how the world functions.  

Favorite History class?
Historiography class with Dr. Larson.  The topic was History of the American West, which was a dazzling experience.  At the time of the class, I hadn't known that I was going to live in New Mexico, and I would like to take it again with that knowledge.

Advice to students?
Enjoy the classes you take that are restricted for History majors and minors.  While having students from other disciplines enhance your other classes, being in a room filled with students that have the same academic interests as you is an exceptional experience. 

Brandon OvermanBrandon Overman, History '04
Financial Advisor
Northwestern Mutual

Why did you choose to major in History?
I chose a History major because I have always had an appreciation for history in general.   I felt that a History major would help shape my ability to think about situations in different ways and provide me with unique understandings of the world and how the world is the way that it is.  Understanding how people's lives were shaped by their environments and as a result how our world was shaped is and was very intriguing to me.

Favorite History class?
I really enjoyed my Minnesota History class with Annette Atkins.  The "closeness" of the Minnesota stories to me really captivated my thoughts, imagination and appreciation for the area that I have grown as a child and adult.

Advice to students?
The best advice I can give a History major is to be active and embrace your studies and all that the CSB/SJU community has to offer.  Attending events provided through the History curriculum will allow you to be exposed to many different things that will shape your experience and will likely open other avenues that you did not know existed.  Also, embrace the reading and thought processes required to be a successful History student.  Those skills will pay large dividends in whatever career path lie ahead in your future.  The ability to think critically and use the information available to you to make decisions and inferences, which I believe is one of the best aspects of being a History major, will help you to achieve a lot in your future career, no matter the field or position.

Mike Boerboom, History '01
Political Analyst

Federal Government, Washington DC

Why did you choose to major in History?
It was a pretty simple decision for me.  If I was going to major in something practical I would have chosen accounting.  But I wanted to focus on something that was interesting to me, that made me excited to go to class, so history was it for me.  I loved the readings the CSB/SJU professors assigned, I (usually) enjoyed the writing assignments, and I genuinely appreciated the time the professors obviously put into preparing for class.  I also appreciated how the history major allowed you to explore a really wide range of regions and topics -- I took classes on the US Civil War, Chinese history, Irish history, African history, etc., etc.  Lots of stuff to explore for an undergrad who didn't know how much he didn't know.

Favorite History class?
US History Since World War II, taught be Professor Jones.   He was a big reason why I enjoyed it so much.  I believe I asked him if he'd be my advisor after taking that class.  As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed the readings in that class, and Dr. Jones did a great job facilitating class discussions.  Very fond memories of that class.  That class is probably what sealed my decision to choose the history major -- if I could spend the next two years after that taking classes like his, what could be better than that?

Advice to students?
Believe in yourself and trust that you'll be able to use your history degree to help find a job that you're excited about.  Or to get into a graduate program that excites you.  The path to your professional life might not be as clear as it is for someone who graduates with a BA in accounting or a BS in nursing, but there are exciting opportunities out there.

Something else about you?
A few years after I graduated from SJU I went to grad school for International Relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC.

Rachel Rebman, History '97

Why did you choose to major in History?
After my first year when I used the CSB/SJU archives for a research paper.   The experience in the archives was a great lesson of putting things into perspective.   It made me realize that my own experiences weren't that much different from those who were here before.   I am able to apply my interest in history to virtually anything I want to do.

Favorite History class?
No favorite.  I never took an Ancient Greece/Rome course, and I sort of wished I had.  No special reason other than I find it interesting.

Advice to students?
You can get a job with a History degree, and it's very possible to get a job that allows you to actually use it!

Joel Loecken, History '90
Theology Teacher
St. Thomas Academy

Why did you choose to major in History?
I really enjoy history- things that can be learned and the interaction of humans in society.

Favorite History class?
I really enjoyed Russian History with Fr, Alexander.  He had great stories, no patience and a fabulous temper!

Advice to students?
Go for it!  Keep a list of skills you are developing and when it is time to interview, tell the employer why you are awesome!

William Cunningham, History '70
City Archivist (retired)
Grand Rapids, MI

Why did you choose to major in History?
History was the subject that interested me most from a young age.

Favorite History class?
Medieval History.  It consisted of a very small group of students.  I had the opportunity to write a seminar paper on a topic of my own interest.  While doing research for my own paper, I learned a lot about related subjects. The course was taught by Fr. Michael Blecker whom I respected for his knowledge, his academic credentials, and his personality and teaching style.

Advice to students? 
If you're strongly interested in the history major, pursue it and don't worry too much about other people (and yourself) who might question its practicality and financial rewards after graduation.  Talk to your academic advisor and other staff about careers that you might pursue after graduation other than teaching history such as museum work, archives administration or librarianship.  A history major can be a good foundation for government work, foreign service, international business and trade, journalism, etc.  Take the time to learn in some depth about a culture other than your own through an internship, study abroad, or academic courses. 

Something else about you? 
After graduating from St. John's I worked temporary jobs for a couple of years.  I studied Spanish and Latin American Culture in Cuernavaca, Mexico for seven months.  I earned a MA degree in Latin American History at the University of Minnesota and a MA degree in Library Science/Archives Administration at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  I was hired by the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan to establish a city archives and records management program.  I was City Archivist in Grand Rapids for thirty two years.  I retired in 2013 but still work one day each week in the Grand Rapids City Archives.