Teaching and Administration

The wide field of education has drawn many of our talented alums into its fold. Chelsea Katzenberg ’08 teaches ninth-grade social studies at a school in the South Bronx where she is a founding member of the faculty: “The rigor and responsibility I learned at Vassar has been extremely important, as working in a first-year school requires a sometimes staggering amount of extra work. As a social studies teacher, one of my most important goals is to develop in my students the kinds of critical thinking skills the Vassar History Department helped me to develop.” Public school teacher Lila Teeters ’11 also attests, “Vassar’s History Department helped me practice using the much-needed tools of good citizenship: a sharp eye, a critical mind, and a compassionate response. Fine-tuned over late nights in the library or around the discussion table, these tools are the same ones that I hope to help my own students master.”

Lillian Hoodes ’08 regularly applies her training at Vassar to her History classes at the Verde Valley School in Sedona, AZ: “I use primary sources nearly exclusively—an approach I of course learned during my four years in Poughkeepsie.” Vassar graduates like Morandi Hurst ’10 also credit the History department for helping them better understand the communities in which they teach: “Even before I arrived on the Reservation, my courses at Vassar set me up to understand the history of American Indians in this country, and the current challenges facing many tribes, as a result of historical oppression. This insight has given me a lens through which I can analyze my current role in my students’ lives, challenges facing our education system on South Dakota reservations, and my own life living among the Sicangu Lakota.”

Jonathan Goldberg ’77, who has taught at the middle and high school level for over thirty years, credits the liberal arts education at Vassar and particularly the History Department’s tendency to avoid using textbooks as a “policy [that] prepared me for anything. I learned, and hopefully spent my career teaching young people, how to learn, think and communicate.”

Syd Golston ’67 writes of the “profound effect” History Professors like Anthony Wohl, Donald Olsen, Evalyn Clark, and Alma Molin made “on her life as a teacher and a school administrator. Scholarship as an interactive process was bred into Vassar history majors.” Nor do all our majors in the education field necessarily end up teaching History, as Marian Passannante ’78 proves. She received a PhD in Public Health at Johns Hopkins and is now an educator and researcher in epidemiology and an administrator at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Many graduates have earned their Ph.D.s in History and are employed at colleges and universities. Ernesto Capello ’96 received his Ph.D. in 2005 from the University of Texas, Austin and teaches Latin American history at Macalester College. Ernie’s research focuses on urban memory, global modernity, emigration, and US-Latin American communities. His first book, City at the Center of the World: Space, History, and Modernity in Quito, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2011. Kelly Shannon ’03 is an assistant professor of History at Florida Atlantic University. She writes, “The professors in the History Department taught me to be confident in myself and my ability to understand the past. I was shy, hesitant, and self-conscious when I started my first history course, “Paris and London, 1500–1800” with Prof. Choudhury. When I graduated four years later, I didn’t hesitate to jump into scholarly debates with my classmates or head off to the library to make my own scholarly contribution to history by conducting original research... I didn’t struggle in graduate school because I was prepared by my education at Vassar.”

We also proudly note our own Lydia Murdoch ’92, who teaches on Victorian England and the British Empire and was the recent director of Women’s Studies. She has just published her second book titled Daily Life of Victorian Women (Greenwood Press, 2013). “Most of all,” she says, “my History professors challenged me to write clearly and persuasively, to ‘go to the source,’ to speak up and find my own voice as a historian, while all the while conveying the joys and constant discoveries of an intellectual life.”

Andrew Block ’06, who did non-profit work for several years and is beginning graduate school in Latin American literary studies at UCLA also writes: “The History Department was critical to my growth as a writer. But the department doesn’t just teach writing. It enables students to learn how compelling writing hinges on clear thinking about myriad sources and the contexts in which they emerge. The department reinforces this lesson through extensive feedback and support, from the 100 level to the Senior Thesis. It’s a lesson that I’ve applied in all my work since graduating from Vassar, as a community organizer, a municipal communications director, a deputy mayor and now as a graduate student in Hispanic literature and culture. If you want to grow as a writer—whether for non-profit work, government, academia or otherwise—then Vassar’s History Department is an ideal place for you.”

Others like Mark Burstein ’84, President of Lawrence University, pursued a different path before turning to academia: “Since graduating from Vassar close to thirty years ago I have worked in city government, as an investment banker, and an organization development and strategy consultant. Along the way, I also received a Masters in Business Administration from The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. For the past nineteen years, I have had the pleasure of working in higher education administration at Columbia and Princeton Universities… As a History major at Vassar I learned research, critical thinking, and presentation skills essential for success in my career. Even more importantly through course work in the department and close connection with faculty I developed ways to learn new and complex topics, a skill that has become a prerequisite for success in this constantly changing world.”