Research skills essential for students majoring in History and Political Science

Bonnie Winston
February 20, 2012

research-skills-essentia

For students to be successful after college, exposure is key.

That's why Rebecca M. Seaman, chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Elizabeth City State University, is working hard with faculty to ensure that students in their department are exposed to foreign and domestic policy issues; to conferences and seminars featuring thought leaders; to the latest research tying events of the past to their impact on the present; to opportunities for learning and career placement for the future.

"There's no question the students who get the internships are the ones who get the jobs first," said Seaman. "The students who know the issues out there, who are active in programs like the McNair Scholars and the Schomburg-Mellon Humanities Summer Institute, are the ones who get the jobs first," she said, referencing two national premier programs that support research projects for college students in various fields of study.

A varied range of internship experiences have aided students in the department to discover their niche, Seaman said. Among them, students have worked with a military historian at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., conducted research for the National Park Service's public programs at the Bodie Island Lighthouse on North Carolina's Outer Banks and helped with cataloging and descriptions at the historical Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, N.C.

About 100 undergraduates have declared history or political science as their major, Seaman said. The department's 11 full-time faculty members have a wide range of expertise - from public administration to philosophy and world history - with which to teach, guide and assist students.

History and political science department faculty have helped coordinate the university's Black History Month events, including a host of speakers, lectures, read-ins and poetry slams through the end of February, and organize the Great Decision Lecture Series, which is going on now at the university.

The lecture series features a weekly talk by ECSU faculty on topics of international importance - from cybersecurity to the geopolitics of energy. In keeping with the university's outreach, the lectures are free and open to the public and held each Thursday through April 5 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Moore Hall, room 246, on the ECSU campus. People at universities across the country will be discussing the same topics as part of the series' mission of public discourse and education.

The series also exposes students across the university to timely issues facing today's leaders and helps history and political science majors gain a deeper understanding of current events.

With the recent economic tumult, Seaman said, the number of students majoring in history has dropped, while the numbers seeking degrees in political science have risen.

"Several students in history are turning toward history education," Seaman said. "They are picking up a minor in secondary education so they can get a teaching certificate and find a job."

While both history and political science prepare students by sharpening critical thinking and research skills, many of the political science majors head off to law school or graduate schools, Seaman said, or launch careers with government agencies.

One initiative aimed at recruiting and retaining history majors is a department focus on public history, Seaman said. Students will be working with the Elizabeth City Parks and Recreation Department to lay out plats, take photographs and help digitize records for the city's eight public cemeteries.

"Some of the cemeteries are very old," Seaman said. "With the help of students, the digitized information can be maintained as an online resource, in part, for genealogical research."

Seaman also is committed to elevating the technology skills of students and faculty within the department. Professors within the history and political science department will pilot the Echo360 classroom lecture capture technology, which will enable them to record classroom lectures and sync them with materials such as PowerPoint slides, videos or other materials on electronic whiteboards. Students can watch the lectures remotely on their computers or access the material afterward to review something they may have missed or not understood during the professor's lecture.

"This allows students to be more engaged in the classroom discussion and not just intent on taking notes," Seaman said.

She said technology also will be critical in jobs sought by history and political science majors. "They need to know how to conduct the more complex, online research to access journals and scholarly work," Seaman said. "They also need to understand technology because of the demand now to digitize documents, as well as the importance of document analysis and prioritization.

"The use of technology has gone beyond just word processing and PowerPoint. Our students have to be ready," she said.

This article is part of a series of features spotlighting the chairpersons of ECSU's academic departments.