American Studies - Student Spotlight
Name: Katelyn Botsford Tucker ’14
Graduate Degree in: Masters in American Studies
Career: A teacher of history and social studies at Shelton High School (plus the head coach of the girls’ cross country team and assistant coach of the girls’ indoor and outdoor track teams)
Why did you choose to attend a graduate program at Fairfield University?
After graduating from Sacred Heart University with a B.A. in History, I knew that I wanted to continue my education in the field of American Studies. I searched for various programs in Connecticut and near my home at the time in New Jersey, but when I was offered a teaching position at Shelton High School I decided that any program I entered had to be local as well as convenient to a part-time student. Fairfield has an excellent selection of courses at times convenient to someone who already had a full-time job, like myself, and its location made it easy to jump right into my coursework knowing that I wouldn’t be taking a train or driving too far to get where I needed to be.
What were your personal and professional objectives when you decided to pursue this advanced degree?
Although I knew I wanted to delve into the field of American Studies, when I first began this degree I was really unsure of myself and didn’t know exactly where I wanted to be. Did I want to continue teaching high school? Should I be pursuing a PhD somewhere instead? What exactly will I get out of a second masters degree? These were some of the questions I asked myself during my first course, Introduction to American Studies. My course work has added value to my profession, and I feel that I am a better teacher because of the material I have read, the discussions I have had, and the questions the professors have posed. Furthermore, I had considered publishing something of a pipe-dream, but the professors I’ve had have helped to make that dream a reality. I’m happy to say that I gained experience working as an Editorial Assistant for Dr. Cecelia Bucki on Connecticut History, a journal dedicated solely to the study of Connecticut, in which I have been published twice. I was also given the opportunity to present two academic papers, one at the Celebrating American Studies Conference in 2013 and the other at the Connecticut Cities Conference in 2014. I am continuing to work on that paper as part of my Capstone.
What are/were the best academic aspects of the program?
I would have to say that Dr. Cecelia Bucki’s Historiography course gave me valuable insights into the field of American Studies and presented many of the themes I continue to return to in my research. And had I not taken her class I would never have known about the opportunity to work at Connecticut History, which proved to be an invaluable experience. Dr. Sharlene McEvoy’s courses in Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, and the Supreme Court allowed me to research American political thought and take an in depth look at some of the most important court cases in history. The discussions were always lively and I still look back at my notes to remind myself of interesting ways to present similar material to my high school students. I absolutely loved Dr. Phillip Elliasoph’s Fine Art vs. Anti-Art course. It was brilliantly conducted over the course of one week where we did nothing but think, live, and breathe art. An amazing experience. The subject of my capstone stemmed from a course I took with Dr. Yohuru Williams. I am so excited about my research and I truly feel that I am making a valuable contribution to the field of Northern Civil Rights. Overall these courses have given me a deeper understanding of American Studies.
Name: Ben Gott '13
Graduate Degree in: American Studies
Career: Sixth-grade English teacher and Middle School Grade Dean at Greens Farms Academy, an independent K-12 school in Westport, Conn.
Why did you choose to attend a graduate program at Fairfield University?
I chose Fairfield University because its program met my needs. I needed a program that would fit my schedule, offering courses in the evenings and during the summer months. I needed a program that was close by; our school day ends at 4:00, and I did not relish a long commute in rush-hour traffic. I needed a program that would challenge me intellectually while at the same time providing small class sizes, close-knit relationships with professors, and interactions with a diverse array of students from many different backgrounds. Most importantly, however, I needed a graduate program that would allow me to implement what I was learning as a graduate student into my own curriculum at GFA. I was not interested in spending my time learning pedagogy and discussing abstract concepts; I had done enough of that as an undergraduate. Rather, I wanted the chance to explore concepts that would enhance both my own educational experience and that of my students. I would recommend Fairfield University’s American Studies degree to any teacher who is looking for a flexible, supportive program that will take your teaching to a different level.
What were the best academic aspects of the program?
As a candidate for a Masters of Arts degree in American Studies, I have taken an incredible array of classes including "American Historiography;" "Women in Work, Women in Sport;" "The Frontier in American Culture;" "Crises and Turning Points in Foreign Relations;" "Politics in Film;" and "Arts and Entertainment in America: 1950 to the Present." I have written papers about the celebration of Columbus Day, the impact of the synthesizer on rock and roll, biases in American history textbooks, and gendered assumptions about cheerleading. I presented a paper I wrote on the cultural impact of the Beach Boys at Fairfield’s first annual American Studies conference in the spring of 2013, and a paper that I wrote for Dr. Peter Bayers on the all-black “singing Westerns” of Herb Jeffries was chosen for inclusion at the Western Literature Association’s 2013 conference, held in Berkeley, California. My experience at Fairfield University has enriched my life as a teacher and as an American citizen, allowing me to look more deeply at the ways in which our nation has come to be defined by its arts, culture, politics, and people.
What attributes regarding the faculty did you find particularly helpful/encouraging?
I have had an incredible experience with the Fairfield faculty. All of my professors have been supportive and encouraging, but Dr. Peter Bayers, Dr. Marti LoMonaco (my thesis advisor), and Dr. David McFadden have been especially influential. They have pushed me to think more critically, to write more clearly, and to approach a variety of topics from a broad, multi-dimensional perspective.
What were some of the challenges in going back to school as an adult student?
The university made an incredible effort to accommodate those of us with full-time jobs, families, and other outside commitments. Every professor I have had, from my first class to my last, has been understanding when I have had to miss a class for an Open House here at GFA or for parent/teacher conferences. As a teacher, I was also pleasantly surprised at the willingness of the faculty in American Studies to allow teachers the flexibility to complete final projects that could be transferred directly into their classrooms. At the end of a class on American historiography, for example, Dr. McFadden allowed me to write a 15-page “unit plan” about a book I was due to teach on the Civil Rights movement that spring. I found this exercise invaluable, and the ability to approach this assignment in such a way benefited both me and my students.
Describe the ways that the university’s Jesuit mission and identity had a positive influence in your academic and personal experience while at Fairfield?
I was honored this fall to be induced into Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit Honor Society who describes its mission as encouraging “a lifetime pursuit of intellectual development…[and] deepening Ignatian spirituality, service to others, and a commitment to the core principles of Jesuit education.” The Jesuit mission of the university has a far-reaching impact on the way in which its students and faculty interact with both local and global communities; this commitment to the well-being of others is clearly reflected in the ways in which the university encourages students to think of the needs of others.