History Isn’t Only For The Historians

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Statue of Gouverneur K. Warren on Little Round Top in Gettysburg PA taken by Francis Butler

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe” (H. G. Wells)

Francis Butler, History major with Revolutionary Era Studies Certificate via the McCormick Center for the Study of the American Revolution, has had his share of experience in the “doing” of history.

What drew Francis to Siena was our McCormick Center for the Study of the American Revolution. He knew he wanted to study history and he knew that Siena’s McCormick Center was the place to get the best education. Not only does he like studying the American Revolution and the Civil War academically, he enjoys it on a recreational level as well. So much so that as a Freshman, while the rest of us messed around and used “I’m still adjusting to being here” as the excuse for everything, he was getting involved as the Program Assistant at the McCormick Center. He was getting his friends and peers involved in the history he loved and at the same time he was expanding the program. He was seen as a student model and recruiter.

In his Sophomore year, Francis wrote paper called “To Bleed for a Higher Cause: The Excelsior Brigade and the Civil War” discussing what motivated New York’s soldiers in the Excelsior Brigade fought in the Civil War. Little did he know, this paper would take him all the way to the New York State History Association’s Annual Conference in June 2013. With a combination of his experiences in the McCormick Center and his education from the history program at Siena, he presented his work in front of historians, teachers, and people from museums from all over New York State. With his trip sponsored and paid for by the McCormick Center, Francis experienced his first academic conference and delivered his research in a professional setting.

When I asked Francis what classes here at Siena were the most rewarding and he explained to me that he has taken many upper level seminars, as far up as 300-400 level. These are the classes that challenge him to think like a historian. These classes built upon his foundational knowledge and invited him to explore historical questions through reading and research. It were these courses that pushed Francis to think and work as a historian.

As a student in the School of Liberal Arts, of course I had to ask him, do you feel that your abilities to think critically have been improving since being here? And his answer was absolutely. He explained how the opportunities extended to him to think critically pushed him to be a better researcher, a better writer, and a better thinker. While he was thinking and writing as a historian, working as a McCormick Center student empowered him to approach problems creatively. So much so he even applied the work of his Marketing class to create a marketing plan for the McCormick Center to increase awareness on campus.

The McCormick Center’s curriculum combines classroom learning with application in the field. Consequently, Francis, as a McCormick Center student, has taken both business, history, and liberal arts coursework that have challenged him and other McCormick Center students to think in diverse and creative ways. Two of the best examples from Francis’s undergraduate career that tie the essence of a liberal arts education and the value of the McCormick Center’s programs are his work on a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant with the McCormick Center and his involvement in the Urban Scholars Mentor Program.

  1. In August 2012, the McCormick Center was awarded a Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop for School Teachers grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for $175,000. Francis, as the co-author of the proposal with the McCormick Center’s director Jennifer Dorsey, Ph.D, helped research and write the narrative, create the grant’s proposed budget, and establish a schedule for the program.  The grant required Siena College to integrate historical learning with important “landmarks” in the Capital Region. Focusing on the theme of American Shakerism, Siena’s program, entitled  Heaven on Earth: Shakers, Religious Revival, and Social Reform in America, recruited 80 K-12 school teachers  in all fields from across the nation (split into two groups of 40, brought in in two sessions) to come to Siena and learn about the Shakers. The setting couldn’t be more perfect: Albany, the birthplace of  the American Shaker movement and close to Shaker sites such as  Mount Lebanon and Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts, was ideal for this program. Francis worked primarily as the logistical coordinator for the two weeks of the program in addition to his role in the planning process. This whole experience required him to integrate his ability to research and write as a historian and the skills he learned in his business classes about management and marketing to successfully help the McCormick Center execute this program.
  2. His second big accomplishment was working as a mentor-leader in the Urban Scholars Mentor Program. Although the program is designed to promote youth engagement with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, and Math), Francis took it upon himself to tie in history to that mix. With his passion for history he wanted to expose the program’s youth participants to the history he loves so much. After putting their heads together, Francis and some of the other STEM program members designed an interactive class incorporating both technology and history.  The class used Minecraft to create a virtual Valley Forge. The students read primary documents relating to the soldiers’ experiences in Valley Forge and used that information to build it in the Minecraft world. “There are many ways to get into history, these kids are used to studying math and using technology so this was perfect,” Francis said. The kids used their math skills to figure out the dimensions of the cabins, critical thinking when they analyzed what they read, and logic all while learning history.

Francis has had a very successful three years so far at Siena and only time will tell what he will accomplish in his last year. With his future he plans to go into curriculum development, which is how education systems go about finding what should be taught. He plans to orient himself to the profession by teaching in charter schools to further his understanding of classroom education before hopefully progress to curriculum development. He is confident about his future because he is secure in his education from Siena. He has learned how to write effectively, construct an argument and think critically about it. He now thinks at a higher level, all thanks to his liberal arts education here at Siena College.
For those of you who are interested in the McCormick Center click here.

Doing What You Love Comes Easily With A Liberal Arts Education


What your main reason for going to college? Probably to get a job, right? And the goal is to do what you love, is it not?

Peter Iwanowicz, a Siena grad, does what he loves and admits that he would be nowhere without his education from the Liberal Arts School at Siena! In his senior year he was offered a job right after graduation for the American Lung Association, and as a psych major he took it without a question.

So, no, I did not know what a lobbyist was when I first heard it. So just in case you don’t either, his job is to provide his clients with political and public policy advice that has been gained either by personal contacts, political intelligence, or from any media source. As a lobbyist you have to be very sociable and be well grounded in what exactly you are fighting for.

The peculiar thing was Peter started at Siena as Biology major; he took chemistry classes and calculus. He was ready to be a scientist until he took his psychology requirement (every student must take the liberal arts requirements- psych 101 being one of them) and fell in love with it. Between his vast knowledge in psychology and his experience in biology, Peter’s success was legendary. Even Peter admitted that none of the other schools at Siena except liberal arts could offer such broad opportunities for education that tend to pay off without even realizing.

Later he moved on to work for the Climate Office and work on Public Health Policies. With a combination of his experiences at the American Lung Association and his education and experiences at Siena, he advanced to a position so high that he was working with state governors. (Side note, he was at a meeting with Governor Schwarzenegger…)

By the end of his journey, he landed right back in the American Lung Association. It was because of the connections he had made while being there that when he needed a job; he knew exactly who to go to and what to ask. He made a point to tell the audience the importance of sustaining relationships. It was his sustained relationships that kept him going on his career journey. His journey taught me that life genuinely does take you everywhere. The only way to stay prepared is to stay educated and stay true to your beliefs.

In one of his projects for the American Lung Association, he was fighting to reduce carbon pollution and working on the RGGI, an attempt to control greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. His biological background told him to go about this by advocating the statistics, and how chemically pollution affects one’s health and the environment but the psychology background in him wanted to go strictly based on the mental/emotional effects pollution could cause. The school of liberal arts in him decided to go the happy medium route and take a little part of each and create a heart wrenching, yet educational, campaign.

He, of all people, understood how smog makes people sick and die. But in order to get the public to understand and get involved he needed to, as he worded it, “boil it down.” He told stories of a man who had gone through two lung surgeries already, and a father who lost his child to an asthma attack. With the right facts and the right home hitting points, Peter accomplished exactly what he wanted to accomplish. He “boiled it down” to the basics; pollution from greenhouse gases makes your loved ones sick because it destroys their lungs. Anyone could understand that.

The school of liberal arts taught him to think critically, which has paid off more than anything else. He learned how to analyze and evaluate information gathered through observation, and experience in the Lung Association and the Governor’s office and turned that information into a successful campaign. Or in his words, “boil it down.” This ability to think critically about every task at hand is why Peter continues to get job offers. He concluded his lecture with informing the audience that his company is hiring and they are looking for people that can write, people with the ability to think creatively along with critically. People like those in the school of Liberal Arts. Not all businesses looking to hire are only looking for business majors. Not all science and health corporations are only looking for biology majors. Places looking to hire are looking for the qualities taught in the school of liberal arts in the people their interviewing.

So why do you go to college? To gain such a broad education that no matter what it is you do, you will have learned the skills to think critically and you will have more than just one particular direction of thinking. It is within the School of Liberal Arts courses that you gain these skills that help you find what you love and encourage you to run with it, just as Peter Iwanowicz did.  

How Professor Lin-Greenberg Masters The Two C’s of Thinking That Every Liberal Arts Student Needs

sunthistles; just keep reading, writing, reading

sunthistles; just keep reading, writing, reading

What are the two C’s?? Creative thinking and Critical thinking. In the School of Liberal Arts here at Siena, freedom rings to those who are creative enough to make it by using their imagination. But in reality, everybody needs an effective critical thinking side to do more than just get by.

How did our very own Professor Lin-Greenberg master them you ask?

1. She established how a creative mind is one that is aware of present settings and culture…

In Lin-Greenberg’s latest collect of short stories title, Faulty Predictions, her settings and plots are always so innovative and vary from story to story. In Kuhn House on September 25th, 2014 Professor Lin-Greenberg read aloud a story to us about a boy who would go to the grocery store, not to buy anything, but to simply crush aged loaves of bread. But how did she think of this? She was listening to the radio one day when she lived in Philadelphia and the broadcast was about a man who was constantly going to grocery stores all over Philadelphia with the intention of ruining thousands of dollars of baked goods. When Lin-Greenberg heard this, she was immediately inspired to write a story based on this event.

2. She recognized research is a necessity in the mind of a critical thinker…

While creativity strives on an imagination, to be critical you must be valid and credible. In the story mentioned above, Lin-Greenberg admitted that she had to research how companies mark their loaves of bread in order to signify their age. Through her research she discovered the different colored ties on the bread signify how old the bread is. That is why, spoiler alert, the boy in the story only crushed loaves with white ties because that means they were the oldest.

3. She made the most of her imagination… 

Lin-Greenberg’s creativity bleeds from the pages of her stories. She explained her characters as 90% imagination and 10% research. When asked how to creates them she explains how she doesn’t try to make them like herself, she creates a new person with their own goals and tries to imagine what “he or she” would do in certain situations. With the use of her imagination she puts herself in the character’s shoes instead of letting the character come from where she stands. Strictly researched characters have no emotion. Strictly imagined characters have no credibility. It is the happy medium between these two aspects that make the most interesting characters.

4. She understood the foundation of how exactly one writes a story… 

Lin-Greenberg is a renowned author and professor here at Siena College. But she didn’t get there from not knowing what she was doing. In order to write successfully you must understand what it is exactly that you are doing. She understands how plot builds and how setting, characters and point of view effects that. Lin-Greenberg’s ability to switch point of view from story to story is a trait of a critical thinker.  She read us a story in second person about a bus driver on Halloween who deep down is suffering from a traumatic experience from that past that still haunts him. Second person is when the story is told through the “you” point of view. It is a difficult writing form but she explained it as her way of letting the reader have a private and intimate relationship with the main character. This process is much more critical in the break down of the type of story that deserves second person and whether or not the story plot and characters are significant enough to fulfill second person point of view.

In conclusion, every liberal arts student must stay true to their creative side while they gain the skills to think critically throughout their journey at Siena College. Finding the happy medium between Critical thinking and Creative thinking is just one of the many ways Liberal Arts Students become successful in all their endeavors.