Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Career as a Historian - Part Seven

Finally, my senior year! Really my second senior year, but who's counting? This was the year to wrap things up with the major and the minor, and figure out what the hell to do from there.

Fall semester I took nothing in the History department, but did a few important things. First, I replaced my other D from a previous semester by retaking Asian Religions. This class was taught by Dr. Joe Wilson. He was really cool and so was the class; I just wasn't prepared to take it as a first-semester freshman and why my advisor ever let me do that I'll never know. So, retook it and got a B+ this time.

I also took a class in the Political Science department that counted as a history class, Contemporary American Foreign Policy with Dr. W. Lee Johnston. Aside from Frank Ainsley, he was probably more influential to me than anyone outside the History department and I think most of my current friends would love this guy. This class was interesting not only because of the topic, but because of the dynamics. There were four history majors in the class and we all sat together. After two rows of empty seats you had all the political science majors on the opposite side of the room. Dr. Johnston was a very energetic (some would even say hyperactive) professor and he loved to just ask a question, point at somebody, and put them on the spot. He'd do this to three or four of the "poli sci" folks and when they couldn't answer he'd come to us. One of us almost always had the answer he was looking for. One day, after a few rounds of this, he looked disgustedly over to the other side of the room and exclaimed "Damn it! I love history majors. You know why? Because they know their shit!" We were his favorites and the poli sci crowd knew it and despised us because of it. One day while I was in his office discussing my term paper progress I asked him why he liked history majors so much. He said, "Son, look at the wall behind you." Hanging right there was a BA in History with his name on it. I only got a B in his class, but I had to bust my tail for that, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I also took yet another class with Frank Ainsley, Geography of North Carolina. This was an open and shut A. The class was easy, the class was fun, but the class was still informative and interesting. It was an in-depth look at the physical, economic, and (mostly) cultural geography of our state.

Spring semester I had to wrap things up with two more Geography courses and two more History courses. Luckily for me I was able to take both Geography courses with Frank Ainsley. They were certainly different from other courses he taught, but both were historical/cultural geography. First was Geography of the Middle East, and second was Historical Geography of Scandinavia (yes, you read that correctly, Scandinavia). Off the wall topics, but fun classes nonetheless.

For my two History courses I couldn't have picked anything more divergent. First, I was back with Dr. Mark Spaulding to take a Senior Seminar on European Radical Right Wing movements. This actually worked out pretty well in one regard. Since I was already studying Scandinavia, I expanded that outlook for the seminar. We had to write a series of short papers leading up to a larger research paper. I focused all my research on the puppet Nazi organizations that were established in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, etc. This was a very difficult class, but I managed an A-.

My other History class was Religion in Early America, taught by Dr. Walter Conser. I loved this class because I have always been interested in the religious history of the country, and the histories of various denominations. This class was also very difficult, but I was very proud to get an A when it was all said and done.

Aside from wrapping up my coursework, I spent much of this year thinking about and applying to graduate programs. I finally decided the best way to go would be to stay in the History field. My goal was to get the MA, then proceed to a PhD and become a college professor. I liked the campus setting, the academic life, etc. My grades were not stellar; they weren't bad, but they weren't top notch. I developed a wish list of programs starting with my dream schools, and winding up with my last ditch, final options. I applied to a lot of programs, which I realize now was a huge waste of money and time. I applied to the University of Virginia and Penn State. I knew I had no chance, so I shouldn't have wasted those application fees, but I did because those were my dream schools. For my last ditch, final options I settled on Eastern Kentucky University and Old Dominion. Now, there's nothing at all wrong with either of these schools. However, their admissions standards were lower (in the case of EKU, much lower) than most other schools. In the middle were a number of schools including Villanova, Appalachian State, NC State, and UNCW. I figured if nothing else I'd get into EKU, ODU, and UNCW which is exactly what happened. I was terribly disappointed that I didn't get into ASU, and somewhat less disappointed about NCSU and Villanova. I realized that I was a borderline possibility at those schools, but I really felt that I should have gotten into App State.

Now I had a decision to make, and it was going to be based on finances. I knew the folks at UNCW had admitted me because I was a known commodity, so to speak, and I was admitted under probationary status. EKU offered me $14,000 per year in loans (not the greatest option). ODU's history department offered me nothing, but my contacts in campus recreation got me a graduate fellowship with their campus rec program. The pay was only $500 per month. Living in Norfolk on that kind of money didn't appeal to me either. If I went back to UNCW the only financial aid I could count on was in the form of loans. However, I had a full-time job waiting for me if I returned to Wilmington. I spent the summer at my parents' house mulling over my options and decided to go back to Wilmington. I informed the History department that I would be a part-time student, and I took a full-time job working with my friend Carl at a paint store (Glidden, to be exact). Grad school wasn't starting out the way I had envisioned it, but at least I was in and I was ready to prove myself.

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