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Careers in History: Higher Education Administration

Karin Abma

Public Affairs Event and Program Coordinator, Ontario, Canada

Karin Abma at desk in DDR musuemHow did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?

After graduating from Calvin with a double major in History and French, I didn’t have a set plan. I travelled and worked for a couple of years before finding a grad program that really suited me. I knew I wanted to do at least my Masters, but didn’t want to do an MA purely in history or purely in French – my interests were too broad for that. And then I found a program that focused on my interests and not just the discipline I majored in. After having done a semester abroad in Hungary during my Calvin days, I was intrigued by Eastern European history and the Soviet sphere of influence. I chose my courses at Calvin based on this interest, which left me perfectly poised for an MA in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (EURUS) at Carleton University in Canada’s capital, Ottawa. My history background gave me a solid research foundation for EURUS, which is an interdisciplinary program.

I had the opportunity to be a research assistant during my studies with a research centre on Carleton’s campus, the Centre for European Studies. We held events and lectures, collaborating with scholars, fellow research institutes, and diplomats from the Ottawa embassies. It was a great opportunity, which led to my present employment with the office of the Dean of the Faculty of Public Affairs at Carleton University, coordinating research events and helping to start a Professional Institute for continued education. I enjoy working at a university, and I anticipate this job leading to more contacts and opportunities within the university or in a research institute, either of which I would be happy with.  

Kyle Heys

Disability Coordinator and Instructor, Calvin College

Why did you choose to major in history at Calvin and what are you doing now?

Good education extends from the passion and process an educator brings to the classroom. I loved history coming into Calvin. I loved walking a civil war battlefield, researching from where my family immigrated, and hearing someone tell the story of the Grand Rapids race riots.  That love was born from good history educators and experiences. Those teachers expanded my available reality, my understanding of what happened in the past and what might in the future. I wanted to pass that on, to be an educator who brought both authentic enthusiasm and intelligent pedagogy to the classroom. So, I majored in history and education at Calvin with the idea of teaching high school history. 

After graduating I got a job teaching high school and middle school history at Mercer Christian Academy in Ewing, New Jersey. I taught there for two years and loved the work but also loved the work I was doing outside the classroom. To explore that experience, I went to graduate school at Michigan State in Student Affairs Administration and began working as Resident Director and now Disability Coordinator and Instructor at Calvin. In my current roles I get to help students expand their own understanding of who they were in the past and who they can become in the future. I also moonlight as an faculty instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School teaching future educators to educate effectively in the outdoors on 30 day wilderness backpacking trips.

How did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?

At Calvin I found professors that challenged and supported my thinking and path. This happened in small ways like Prof. Dan Miller encouraging me to think about the possibility of life beyond earth and large ways like Prof. Ronald Wells (now retired) encouraging me to think about graduate school. Both were outside my scope at that point and those are just two of many examples.

My Calvin history major allowed me to study a topic I loved and taught me to write, think, and speak more effectively. Each of these skills prepared me well to teach, for grad school, and my current work. Each helps me read where each student has been and help them chart a path and plan for where they could go.

What advice do you have for current students or those thinking of majoring in history?

My advice for new History majors would be to get to know a professor well and be active in seeking out opportunities to do research, internships, and study off campus. Much is learned from these opportunities that will enrich your engagement in the classroom, history major community, and beyond.

Paul Bylsma ('09)

Admissions Counselor, Calvin College

I graduated from Calvin in 2009 with a degree in Secondary Education, having majored in history and minored in political science. I am currently working as an admissions counselor for my dear alma mater. I recently decided to pursue a degree in higher education administration, and enrolled in GVSU's program in January 2014. I'm not sure where God's leading me yet, but the Higher Ed program combines my interest in culture with a passion for education.

Why did you choose to major in history?

I chose history after I realized that engineering was not meant for me. I have always had a passion for history and decided to pursue it formally. I chose my minor with help from my advisor, Prof. Bob Schoone-Jongen, because it complements history well and is well-matched with history in education, and because I enjoyed my POLS 101 course. I never looked back after choosing history and political science. Taking some history courses at the same time as some political science courses proved to be extremely beneficial in understanding and framing material in both classes.

How did your time at Calvin prepare you for what you are doing now?

My training in secondary education primed me for incredible interaction with high school students, and the history department specifically provided me with a wealth of anecdotal evidence of the personal attention, advice, and mentorship that Calvin professors offer. Of course, I can talk about the history department to students who are interested in that specific major, but the well-rounded course load that the department offers has prepared me to be conversational in all sorts of topics, while being able to offer insights from a more historical perspective. I have found that my graduate studies of history build on the experience I had as an undergraduate at Calvin, in that I am able to explore the social and cultural interests that I discovered while studying at Calvin and to read, write, research, discuss, persuade, and contribute to class conversation in meaningful ways - thanks to the modeling of such skills by my Calvin professors!

What are your plans for the future?

My life goal is to pursue a PhD in history and teach at the university level, but I am more immediately concerned with finishing my Master's in a timely fashion and to be able to utilize my degree and passion for history professionally.

What are some of your favorite memories of the history department?

All include the professors teaching the courses. I was able to finish an honors contract course and write my thesis on the cultural roots of the Calvin/Hope rivalry with Prof. Kristin Du Mez, which was a great opportunity to really immerse myself in social and cultural history. Also, taking time to chat with Prof. Schoone-Jongen about everything from how to be a better history teacher, to baseball, to his research trips to Germany, and everything in between - he once told me to listen to Garrison Keillor as an example of how to tell a good story! - really helped me to see the department as being staffed by knowledgeable, wise, intelligent people who cared about my studies and academics, but also about me as a person. Getting to know my professors personally was great!

Do you have any advice for current students?

Take advantage of how much your professors offer. They are such great people to talk to about academics and otherwise, and they really offer themselves as resources for students. Also, take the extra challenge! Get involved with research projects, do trips abroad, go to free food meetings, really invest yourself in the department! And follow what you love, but keep your mind open. My interests didn't totally develop until my junior year as a history major. Don't be afraid to step out on a limb.

Graduate school

Many Calvin History graduates go on for advanced degrees. Here are some of the schools that recent History graduates have attended.

Boston College
Calvin Theological Seminary
Clemson University
Cornell University Law School
Davenport University
Fuller Theological Seminary
Grand Valley State University
Johns Hopkins University
Marquette University
Michigan State University
Ohio State University
Pepperdine University
Purdue University
SUNY College at Binghamton
Thomas M. Cooley Law School
University of Cincinnati
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
University of Wales
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
University of Western Ontario
Wayne State University
Western Michigan University
Western Theological Seminary
Wheaton College – Illinois
Yale University