Social Science Scholars Newsletter

March 2019

Being a Social Science Scholar is a full-time job, and one that our students keep throughout the entirety of their undergraduate experience. Even when the class sessions end, the fun continues through internships, research opportunities, and other exciting ways to stay involved. Find out how some our Scholars keep up with the program throughout each step of their journey.

Erykah Benson - Freshman Scholar, All-Star Researcher 

29260917_1957355161247174_8547580283111604224_n.jpgImage: Erykah poses for a photo.

Growing up, I was a total history nerd. I was one of those kids who always had my nose stuck in some type of ancient Egyptian or ancient Greek history book. As I got older, I developed a particular fascination with American history. To me, the history of the United States is a kaleidoscope of contradictions, successes, failures, and unspoken stories. I was especially fascinated by the unspoken stories. However, it didn’t take long for me to become aware of the distinction between the celebrated heroes of American history and trivialized figures of the past.

While I received the standard education on American history in school, I also received additional history education from my parents and grandparents. Fully invested in teaching me about the past, my family members took my little brothers and I to countless museums and historical landmarks. Every family vacation had some sort of historical element. “Pay attention, because there’s going to be a quiz after this!” My dad would always partially joke before we went on any trip. That was the kind of family I grew up in. What puzzled me as a child was the stark difference between what was taught in my history class versus what my parents exposed me to. Outside of school, my dad encouraged me to read about great Black scientists like the surveyor and naturalist Benjamin Banneker or the inventor of the traffic light, Garrett Morgan, or great Black writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. It would be a rarity to hear those names uttered in my history class. Instead, I received the postcard pantheon of historical figures. We focused on the founding fathers, the great industrialist men of the 20th century, and briefly skimmed over the accomplishments of women and minorities. While I received adequate education in history and had wonderful teachers, the content of the instruction itself was one-dimensional in comparison to discussion among historians.

While we did discuss the advancement of equality over the course of American history, the struggles of minority groups were often generalized, and painted more as an afterthought to the broader march of American economic and political progress. We didn’t seem to ever have enough time to cover the individual struggles of Asian Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, and African Americans. We didn’t even cover LGBT+ history until I got to high school (that had more to do with a whole set of other issues regarding the controversy of teaching kids about sexual orientation). It wasn’t until high school that I was able to take my first AP history class, where for the first time, I was challenged to be more critical about history and truly discuss the root causes of socioeconomic and racial conflict in our country in a school environmnet. High School AP History class reinvigorated my love for the social sciences, and inspired me to become a social science educator myself.

Now that I’m in college, I’m challenged even further to think critically about the complexity of societal issues and history. The resources I need to explore the issue of history education further are finally at my fingertips. Who determines what content becomes standard in history textbooks? How do they decide it? What choices do school administrators, teachers, and students have in determining their education, and how does this affect the student? These are the questions I am determined to find out. My goal is to focus on high school history education and conduct a comparative analysis of the content and content determination process of the three main types of history educational standards: Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Michigan State Standards. In addition, I intend to research the availability of each type of history education across school districts in the state of Michigan, as some high school don’t offer AP or IB. Ultimately, I want to compare and contrast the content of each type of history education standard, and determine which approach is the most in-depth.

I am passionate about this research project because the formation of a student’s sense of self and and sense of reality in society is based heavily off of what they learn in school. In my Educational Psychology class this semester, we are learning about the stark inequalities of education that people receive based on gender, race, and socioeconomic status. The quality of education a student received is not only determined by the district they live in, but also depends on the type of environment teachers provide for their students. Female students, LGBT+ students, and students of color are disproportionately marginalized in the classroom, leading to lower self-confidence, higher levels of stress, and lower academic performance. As America’s classrooms become increasingly diverse, history classrooms must become better equipped to teach a more inclusive and dynamic history class, one in which students are challenged to contemplate deeply about. As a future social science educator, I have a partial stake in this research endeavor because I’m fully invested in making sure I’m the best educator I can be in the future. Through the guidance of my research mentor and faculty in the Social Science Scholars program, I hope to produce an investigation that will prove useful to the Michigan public schools in the improvement of high school history education. 

Megan Jursch – Granting New Scholars a Great Experience

image5.jpgImage: Megan (far right) poses with fellow Scholars and coach Tom Izzo.

The Social Science Scholars Program has changed my undergraduate experience and my life for the better. Jenn, Dr. Waller, and Dr. Stamm have served as my mentors, teachers, and confidants throughout my time at MSU, always full of suggestions and advice. I owe so much to this program, and I strive to give back to these people who have given me terrific amounts of guidance and support. 

Starting my undergraduate experience as a Scholar was immensely helpful, as it provided me with a network of 18 immediate friends and colleagues to connect with. We all went through the same seminars and study abroad experiences, so I always felt like I had someone to lean on who understood my perspective. After my first two years of Scholars seminars I wanted to remain connected to our vast network so I made sure to stop by Room 307 frequently to do homework or chat with other Scholars. I still make visits to the Scholars room whenever I feel like having positive, engaging conversations with people I care about. 

Even when I am not in the Scholars room I connect with members of my cohort and other cohorts daily. Through frequent movie nights, game nights, dinners, and other outings I have made very close friendships that will last a lifetime. We have had many adventures together, such as going to the cider mill, attending MSU football games, sewing our own weighted blankets, meeting Tom Izzo, and taking trips to Detroit and Canada. Many of us are passionate about the growth and development of the Scholars Program. Because of this, I get so excited to help at recruitment events like the Alumni Distinguished Scholarship competition and meet all the members of our incoming cohorts each year. 

Because of my positive experience in this program I always try to make sure other Scholars have the same level of opportunities, resources, and support as I have had. I am a peer mentor to a sophomore Scholar, and I also try to provide mentorship to any other Scholar who needs it. As a Career Peer Advisor with the College of Social Science, my time is always open to Scholars with career exploration questions, resume edits, internship searches, and any other needs. I also serve on the Scholars Leadership Council as the Senior Psychology Liaison and the Internship Chair. I have held seminars and workshops for the second year cohort as they secure their internships for the summer, and I have advised countless Scholars in my advising appointments. In return, there are always Scholars who are willing to listen to my struggles and ideas. I truly feel supported by these people, and I know they will always be there to lend a hand in times of need. 

As I get ready to attend graduate school at MSU in the fall I am sad to see some graduating seniors leaving the area but I know I will stay connected with them and all the Scholars that remain at MSU through our lifelong bonds within MSU, the College of Social Science, and the Social Science Scholars Program.

Madge MacLean  – Life as a Scholar Outside MSU

IMG_6239.jpgImage: Madge poses with treats in a Las Vegas cafe. 

Since graduating from MSU in December 2017 with a degree in Criminal Justice, I spent most of last year applying for jobs, mostly in government positions but also in the private industry, all over the world. All told, I sent out over 125 resumes, cover letters, and applications, often not hearing back for weeks or months. It was a frustrating and difficult time for someone who had excelled in an internship in my chosen field; I had hoped to be able to graduate and find a job within a few months. Most of my friends either already had jobs or were returning to school for their postgraduate work, and I wondered often if I was making the right decision to postpone a Master’s until I had a better paying job than being a hostess at a local restaurant. 

But I shook off my doubts and continued to apply, making for an interesting year. After interviewing with places like FaceBook and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), I took a seemingly unbelievable phone interview with the Air Force in Nevada. Before I knew it, I had received an official start date, boxed up everything I owned, and flown south! I am working now with one of several intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance squadrons housed on Nellis Air Force Base just north of Las Vegas. Moving forward, I will be contributing to complex intel analysis focusing on mission management. So far, I feel the job is an incredible fit and I am eager to begin to really dig into some of the projects I’ll be focusing on. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work with USAF, and my new squadron in particular. 

When I look back to see how I ended up here, I can easily trace my path back through Jenn and Dr. Waller at the Scholars program. MSU was never my first choice school—like many other scholars, I was offered admission at universities throughout the country, many of them with prestigious reputations. But when I visited MSU and spoke with Dr. Waller, his passion for this program (then in its very infancy) was obvious. He took the time to tour around the campus with me, explained what he felt made MSU so special when he himself had experience with other schools the world over, and shared with me his hopes and visions for what the program could become. I knew I belonged there. Over the years, the program gave me opportunities that led to even more opportunities, each bigger and more exciting than the last. Looking back on my time at the scholars, I realize that each chance to explore and learn that was offered to me—that eventually led to my position with USAF—was because of the hard work of a few passionate people who want the next generation to be educated, independent seekers of knowledge who are going to change the world. Without those people, I surely would never have ended up where I am now, and I know without a doubt that this program will continue to be something special and important at MSU for many years to come.

Liz Schondelmayer – A Scholar's Reflection Before Graduation

IMG_0626.jpgImage: Liz poses with BB-8 at a local comic convention.

As I pass the midpoint of my last semester as an undergraduate at MSU, I can’t help but feel a growing impatience for the end of the school year. I catch myself often day-dreaming about warmer weather, posed photos in a green cap and gown, and champagne with friends and family to celebrate me getting my two diplomas. But as I tackle my last few weeks here at MSU (I’ve got seven left, but who’s even counting?), I am forcing myself to not only look forward, but also to reflect back on my experiences from the last four years. I’ve been helped by many people and shaped by many things during my time here as a student at MSU, but nothing has had more of an impact on me or my experience than the Social Science Scholars Program.

When I think of the person I was four years ago as a senior in high school, a few words come to mind: lost, excited, scared, naïve. (So, really, not much has changed.) I knew I would be attending MSU the following fall semester - with that decision solely being based my acceptance into the Scholar’s program - but I had no idea the kinds of challenges I would tackle and accomplishments I would triumph in the forthcoming four years. As an 18-year-old, I did make one (surprisingly) wise decision about how I was going to approach college: understanding what a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity my undergraduate experience was, I decided to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way – every. Single. One. From the get-go, I joined a million clubs, took a bunch of classes outside my major, and tried to make friends with every person I met.

That tenacious, try-everything attitude stuck with me for the entire four years, and it paid off – by the end of my college career, I will have earned two Bachelor’s degrees, participated in one study abroad and two study away experiences, and successfully completed five different internships. I also helped with a major study by world-renown sex researcher Megan Maas, co-authored a scholarly article published in a major journal, and had my very own research article published in the Scholar’s research book. All while maintaining a 3.9 GPA and staying in the Honor’s College. That’s… a lot.

But none of it would have been possible without the Scholars Program. My first few internships began with Scholars. My study abroad experience and subsequent study away experiences? Scholars. My research achievements? Scholars. Everything I’ve had the privilege to do, see, and accomplish here at MSU was built on the foundation the Scholars Program laid down for me. As I walk across the stage on May 4, among everyone I have to thank for getting me through the last four years, Jenn Arbogast and John Waller will be at the front of my mind. And as I continue to day-dream about crossing that stage and receiving my degree, my favorite part is when I get to turn to them and say thank you for everything they’ve done for me, and all of us here in the program. 

Billy Wetzel - A Scholar and an Intern

38043202_299071580661688_3953951840499924992_n.jpgImage: Billy (far right) poses with fellow Scholars on the England trip.

When I first started the process of looking for internships over my summer break, the primary criteria driving my search were that the internship was located somewhere where I could live at home over the summer and would allow me to work somewhere within the broad field of law. Once I had established the parameters for my search, I thought that I would have little difficulty finding internships available near me; however, I soon realized that this assumption was far from the truth. My troubles locating internships that I was qualified for was centered around a couple issues– the fact that most legal internships were designated for law students and there simply were not many internships posted for the geographical area that I was searching in. 

Thankfully for me, two older Scholars– Megan Jursch and Mary West– hosted an event for my cohort that was designed to help us find internships for the summer. When I shared the problems that my search was having with them, I received some valuable advice when they showed me how to use LinkedIn to search for internship posting– which is where I found the internship that I will be working at this summer– and they encouraged me to reach out to smaller law firms in my area because they are usually more willing to take on undergraduate students as interns. 

Using the information that I had gotten from Megan and Mary I was able to refine my search and I quickly found an internship at State Farm within their legal department that I was qualified for. At this point, I reached out to my mentor, Patrick Grobbel, to ask for his help in crafting a cover letter and résumé that would make me stand out to State Farm. Additionally, Dr. Waller and Megan– this time serving in her role at Career Services– also provided me with constructive feedback for my application. 

About a month after I had submitted my application for the internship, I found out that the assistance I had gotten had helped because I had advanced to the first round of phone interviews. Once again, I reached out to Patrick to help prepare me for the interview, and we spent a good hour the weekend before the interview brainstorming what sort of question I would be asked and what experiences from my past that I should talk about in the interview. After another anxious month of waiting, I received an email notifying me that I had moved onto the final round of phone interviews. Just as I did before, I used my connections to help me prepare for the interview– Dr. Waller and Patrick both called me to help me get ready for the final interview. 

Finally, after another week and a half of nervously waiting, I got a phone call from the HR rep that had first interviewed me to let me know that I had received the corporate law internship. For this position, I will spend ten weeks working within State Farm’s legal department as a member of the Public Policy Research Group. While I have yet to receive many details about the specifics of the job that I will be doing, I have been able to gather that I will be researching public policy being proposed at the state level and generating reports for how different proposed bills will affect State Farm. This internship should be an ideal chance for me to build upon my public policy research skills that I have been honing as a member of the Social Science Scholars Program and should allow me to make valuable connections with people at State Farm.