Welcome to the first of what History@EIU plans as a series of interviews with students and faculty of the History Department at Eastern Illinois University. For our first interview, we sat down with Ms. Jessica Nunez, a History with Teacher Licensure in Social Science major. A senior, Jessica is the 2014 Livingston C. Lord Scholar (EIU’s most prestigious academic achievement), and winner of the History Department’s Rex Syndergaard Scholarship (awarded to an outstanding undergraduate or graduate student with an interest in teaching). History@EIU sat down with Jessica and talked about her time here at Eastern, her love of history, and her plans for the future.
Jessica Nunez, History ’15 (photo: Jay Grabiec)
History@EIU: Hi, Jessica. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and chat with us. You are about to earn your degree in History with Teacher Licensure in Social Science. Why did you choose to major in History?
Jessica Nunez: That’s a good question. Actually, when I came to Eastern, I was not a history major or a secondary teaching major.
History@EIU: So when you arrived here, did you declare a major or were you undecided?
Jessica: I did declare a major. I was a journalism major when I got here, but I had a really big interest in the social sciences. After a while, when I decided that I wanted to pursue something besides journalism, I was first drawn to sociology and psychology and I switched over to a sociology major. That’s when I found out I could get a teachers certification with it, which is unique at Eastern. Eastern, unlike most other schools, offers a choice of a History, Sociology, Psychology, Geography, Economics, and Political Science concentration with the Social Studies teacher certification option. I was a little unsure about doing the teacher certification, but I remember thinking, OK, I’m going to be a sociology major, so why not get my teacher certification with it. Let me check this out and see how it goes. So everything kind of changed, and soon after that I ended up deciding to pursue teaching.
Now why did I change to a history major? Because it’s the best of course! When I started my sociology major, I noticed out of all of the social studies classes I was required to take, I found my history classes to be the most interesting. I also noticed that my history classes laid a foundation for all my other courses. For instance, sometimes it was hard to understand what was going on in my sociology classes without taking history classes first. I decided on sociology because I wanted to study people and societies. But after taking a few history classes, I realized, for me, a history degree would be the best way for me to do that.
History@EIU: What have been some of your favorite history courses at Eastern?
Jessica: If I had to choose, there are three that really stand out. This semester I am taking the Revolutionary America class. I’ve always been really fascinated by this time period in American history and I am learning something new every day. There are many ways to approach the American Revolution as an historian and this class is really opening me up to new perspectives, ideas, and possibilities that I had not considered before. Over the summer, I really enjoyed my Arab-Israeli Conflict class. Since the conflict still persists to this day, I found this class to be one of the most useful and relevant classes I’ve taken in the history department. During the course, the professor ran an iPhone app called Red Alert which Israelis use to learn of incoming rocket fire. I downloaded it and still have the app on my phone to alert me whenever rockets are fired from Gaza into Southern Israel. Even though the class has ended, the conflict still continues and I feel like I have not left that class. I also really liked my Modern World History class. I really enjoyed this course because the professor incorporated a lot of Asian history into a modern world context. In my world history classes in high school, a lot of Asian history was overlooked or just skipped over entirely. I found this class to be very insightful and useful for my future as a potential educator.
History@EIU: Did you ever have a moment sitting in a history class when you just sat back and thought to yourself, “Wow, I love studying history”?
Jessica: Definitely. When I was taking U.S. History Since 1877 with Dr. Coit – I should have mentioned that class as one of my favorites! – at a certain point in the semester we were studying the Great Depression, and we were talking about the social changes that were going on at the time. During that discussion, he said if you want to study society, study history because a lot of it is about studying changes in societies. It was an obvious point, but it was a revelation to me at the time. Right then, I thought, ok, I have to be a history major.
Jessica (front row, second from left) and fellow majors with departmental awards received at the annual departmental banquet in April 2014.
History@EIU: What got you interested in pursuing a career as an educator?
Jessica: I think there are many reasons why I decided I wanted to pursue becoming an educator. I think it’s mostly because of the teachers I had in high school and how they influenced me, and the student-mentor relationships I had with each of them. This carried over to here at EIU, where I developed more student-mentor relationships, this time with my professors. Another reason is because I love school. I just couldn’t imagine not being in a classroom for the rest of my life! I’ve also been involved with many mentor and tutoring programs during my time here at EIU, such as University Foundations, Homework Heroes, and the Summer Institute of Higher Learning. The relationships I’ve built with students – that whole mentor relationship – gets me really excited about education, and that’s another reason why I decided to pursue a career in teaching.
History@EIU: You seem really interested in both world history and U.S. history. If you had to choose one to teach, which would it be? And have you learned something here at EIU that you think is really going to help you teach such a class? Whether that’s a specific topic or event you studied, or maybe something that happened in the classroom?
Jessica: Generally what I’ve noticed in a lot of my history classes is that they usually center around themes, not just events or particular facts, and that will carry over into my teaching. For example, when I think of my Researching and Writing History class, Dr. Key encouraged us to consider the global impacts of the triangular trade. Instead of just thinking about the trade of goods and people, he encouraged us to consider that there was also a trade of culture and ideas. When I think about history in this sort of way, facts and events become all the more interesting because they fit into a larger theme.
History@EIU: When you do start teaching, if you could have your dream job, where would it be? What kind of school and at what grade level?
Jessica: I’m secondary education, which will give me my license to teach in a high school, but I’m also going for my middle level endorsement. I’m actually leaning toward middle level right now, but I won’t know until I get out there. The classes I’ve observed that I’ve enjoyed the most have happened to have been Middle School classes, so I’m leaning toward that. We’ll see.
If I could choose where to teach, I’d really like to teach at one of my middle schools around where I grew up. I have connection already with that community and I think it would be very meaningful because some of the schools around there are struggling, not just because of the economy but because of everything that is changing in the education system. I think going back to the schools from which I came, to be able to teach there, that would be my dream. Also, I went to a magnet school when I was growing up. I would love to go back there and teach.
History@EIU: What kind of magnet school did you attend?
Jessica: It was actually a very interesting place. There wasn’t a focus like with many magnet schools, like an art, music, or science focus. Instead, the school was all about teaching students about individualism and principles related to individualism – teaching students to be respectful, resourceful, and how to manage their time. One thing that was very interesting was that we would call our teachers by their first names. I did this starting in elementary school. I think it helped build relationships with teachers, but ones with a sense of responsibility and respect between teacher and student.
History@EIU: It sounds like this magnet school experience helped shape the person you are today, at the very least with regard to your love of teaching and how you value student-teacher mentor relationships.
Jessica: Yes, definitely. The school showed how strong and meaningful the relationship between a student and teacher can be. I think that’s what I envision for myself as a future educator.
History@EIU: What advice would you give a current or prospective history major?
Jessica: First, do your work. It seems obvious, but when you engage with the readings, the homework assignments, or your professors and classmates in classroom, then you’re going to be engaged in the subject and you’ll learn. It’s not just about earning a grade in the class. Do your work, do your readings, and come to class prepared, otherwise you won’t know what’s going on and you won’t learn – which is the whole point. I’d also say reach out to professors. Reach out for those mentor relationships with professors, and even if you don’t want one, reach out when you need help. Also take advantage of every opportunity you can, because you’re only here for four years and if you’re just sitting in your room doing your homework and that’s it, you’re not growing as a student and as a person.
History@EIU: What are some opportunities you took advantage of and you are happy you did?
Jessica: If we are talking about history, there are so many things going on in the department. There’s departmental honors and independent study – where you can do your own research one-on-one with professor. There’s also History Club, Historia, and so many other things going on, like History Careers Day, lectures and events, trips, and so on. Outside the department, some of the things I’ve done have been getting involved with residential life, student housing, and stuff like that.
History@EIU: As an RA?
Jessica: Yes, I was an RA for about 2.5 years. I also worked at the Student Success Center as a Summer RA and a Peer Learning Assistant. I’m a part of NRHH – the National Residence Hall Honorary. I’m also a member of a service sorority, Epsilon Sigma Alpha, which also serves the local community, St. Jude, and Easter Seals. I think there are so many different things you can get involved with in the department and on campus that interest you. Take advantage of those opportunities because you are going to build lifelong friendships, make connections, network, and obviously build your resume as well.
History@EIU: You are very busy in the department with your coursework, and also with extracurricular activities inside and outside the department. What do you do when you aren’t working?
Jessica: I really like to read for pleasure, not just my history books.
History@EIU: What have you been reading lately?
Jessica: Non-fiction. Right now I’m reading Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer. It’s about Pat Tillman, the football player who served in Afghanistan. I’m in the middle of that right now. I also just read and really liked Outliers.
History@EIU: Ah, Malcolm Gladwell. Have you read Tipping Point?
Jessica: No, not yet. But it’s on my list!
History@EIU: Besides reading, what do you do?
Jessica: Besides reading I like to run, mostly around Charleston. I usually run down by the square, and every once in a while down the Panther Trail. It’s something I do for fun – not competitive – I run 5K races occasionally but mostly just for fun. I’m not training for a marathon or anything, but just like to run around town and the trails. I also like to make crafts and I sew. I’m in the middle of making pillows for my apartment!
History@EIU: So are you excited to be finishing soon? You’ll be graduating in less than a year!
Jessica: It’s bittersweet. I’m leaving, so it’s good to be moving on and have that accomplishment under my belt. But this has been my home for the past four years. I’ve grown a strong connection to Eastern, to my classmates, and to my professors, and I’m leaving all that behind which is really bittersweet.
History@EIU: Well, Jessica. I think that’s all the time we have. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and best of luck with the rest of the school year and beyond.
Jessica: Thank you so much, and thank you for taking the time to speak with me!