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Careers in History: International Relief

Matthew Vanderwerff

USAID logoResearcher for USAID

Currently I work as a researcher for USAID (United States Agency for International Development) for the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia. I work on projects that involve the development of a free and independent media in the region. Most of my time involves researching and writing about media development including alternative media, legal issues, internet censorship and access, and business development among others.

Why did you choose to major in history at Calvin?

I struggled to decide between a major in English and a major in History. In the end, history took the day because the stories were more interesting. More seriously, I wanted to study and consider the lives and circumstances of other people in different times and places. The best way to do this seems to be to read about, learn from, and empathize with those who have lived in those other times and in other places. And in the end I found that by studying history, I learned a great deal about the other subjects that interested me—literature, philosophy, and even religion.

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

A liberal arts education provides essential reading and writing skills. It sounds funny, but many people—even professionals, do not understand how to absorb information through reading and present it in an organized fashion. My time at Calvin provided a real opportunity to learn and then hone those skills with professors who really enjoyed their teaching. My work now requires me to use many of the skills I was taught at Calvin—I read, ask questions, and write explanations and reports.

What are some of your memories of the Calvin History department?

I have fond memories of much of the History department—from good conversations with professors to really fascinating books I read. One course in particular—War and Society taught by Professor Bruce Berglund—set me on a path to studying Eastern Europe and eventually going to graduate school. I doubt I'll ever forget Professor Berglund slamming his shoe against the lectern shouting "We will bury you!" a la Khrushchev. I also had the chance to study in Hungary for a semester with Professor Doug Howard—a wonderful opportunity that I still encourage undergraduates to pursue.

Do you have any advice for current students or those thinking of majoring in history at Calvin?

The best thing that an undergraduate can do while at Calvin is take a variety of classes and interact with a lot of different people. There is considerable pressure to have everything figured out by the fall semester of your sophomore year (and even more pressure to be married shortly after you graduate). When I began my studies at Calvin, I was very intimidated by my professors. In retrospect, however, the highlights of my education turned out to be the conversations and relationships that I was able to build. Don't be afraid to take a course that doesn't match your four-year graduation plan, and don't be afraid to get to know your teachers.


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