I have the honor and privilege of giving back to UCLA's undergraduate history community as a member of the History Undergraduate Advisory Board (HUAB) for the 2015-16 academic year.
I served as Vice President of Phi Alpha Theta, the history undergraduate honor society at UCLA, for part of the 2013-14 academic year; I was appointed president before the start of the 2014-15 academic year, and was elected president for the 2015-16 academic year. I’m a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars at UCLA and Alpha Lambda Delta & Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society at UCLA. I also participate in Reformed University Fellowship at UCLA.
UCLA’s history department has been a boon to my education and my personal development. As a member of HUAB, I can more fully express my gratitude through open discussion of the many departmental strengths and potential areas of improvement that I've observed. This is done with the goal of actualizing meaningful change on campus and ultimately to improve the daily experience of professors and students alike.
Coming from a background of progressive education, I’ve seen the benefits of framing issues in light of the relationship between students and their peers, between students and their professors, and between the school and the student body. Thus, I've thought of three specific themes that can be used as springboards to usher in reform: space, validation, and writing.
- I desire to cultivate an organic sense of community between history majors that fosters a sense of cohesive space, where growth and fraternization are encouraged within the context of the historical academic discipline.
- Using the admissions and enrollment data publicly available and provided by UCLA, since 1998, the university has seen a rate of decline in the enrollment of history majors as high as 23%, on average a loss of about 1.5% of enrolled students per year. While this could reflect increasingly competitive undergraduate selection procedures, I think it speaks to an under-addressed phenomenon that should be explained to history majors in a constructive and encouraging way.
- From my discussions with other history majors, a recurring motif that I've noticed is a sense of encroachment upon the validity of history as a practical academic discipline from within the university climate and extending out into the broader culture. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and questioning of worth when one lacks an institutional support structure founded in the discipline itself.
- By expanding the department’s resources in the effort of increasing exposure to more of the 773 undergraduate history majors enrolled (as of Fall 2014) at UCLA through the deployment of innovative outreach strategies, I believe that the cultivation discussed in the first point can be augmented.
- One issue I believe the history department has excelled at is the frequently posed, “What can I do with a history degree?” question from students and parents alike. I would like to see a broadening and continuation of events and resources aimed at illustrating the academic and non-academic career routes that are available to history majors graduating from UCLA.
- One of the under-utilized resources provided by the history department is the History Undergraduate Writing Center. I believe that emphasizing the importance of writing to the study of history is key to increasing the exposure of the resource. I have heard some professors on the media and through their blogs on the Internet claim that even excellent historians have questionable writing skills. I think encouraging the sharpening of writing skills is in any case a useful practice for history majors.
In light of my commitment to give back to UCLA, I realize that talk is relatively cheap. I will keep you updated (and keep myself accountable) regarding the status of the rough outline I provided above. While the vision is certainly mine, the broader theme of seeing our department grow in a healthy and structurally sound manner is one shared by the administration and by my fellow board members.
I know that we can highlight the pressing needs of history students at UCLA and call to attention those issues that need to be addressed. If you'd like to communicate any thoughts regarding my vision, I would be much obliged to hear from you.
In the meantime, I recommend that you read the recent Letter from the Chair by Stephen Aron—a wonderful professor; I took a class he taught on 19th century American history. He discusses the all important question of history's relevance for today and why it matters.