“Everything that happens today is impacted by what happened yesterday,” Walton said.
Her perspective is exactly what Collin College history professors are hoping to share with the remainder of their students.
Dr. Keith Volanto, history department chair at the Spring Creek Campus, said knowledge of history provides protection for educated citizens.
“Just as someone signing a basic financial contract would be at the mercy of whoever they were dealing with if they had no knowledge of basic finance and statistics, people without basic historical knowledge are at the mercy of any filmmaker, politician or businessman who intends to use that person’s historical ignorance against them,” Dr. Volanto said.
Once Collin College history professors have students in the classroom, it is time to fight the battle against stereotypes of a boring, purposeless subject and create an armor of knowledge for their futures. Collin professors point out to students that while the past is not changing, an individual’s own background affects how they view history. It is, in fact, dynamic.
“Every semester in class somebody will, because of their own personal experiences, look at something a little bit differently,” said Wendy Gunderson, professor of history. “History doesn't happen in a vacuum. It continues to evolve and our interpretations of it continue to evolve.
“You can relate things that happened years earlier to what’s going on today,” Gunderson said. “For example, during an election year, we look at policies being discussed and tie them in with the past. Many people don't realize that discussion regarding mandated healthcare isn't something new.”
It is that type of learning environment that encouraged Walton to attend Collin College despite the full ride offered from Southern Methodist University.
“I met the professors here and saw the passion they had for their students,” Walton said. “My professors treat me like a fellow researcher. I go to a lot of the history forums here on campus, and I never feel like I can't ask questions or be curious. They make it personable.”
Gunderson tries to convey the importance of history to students from the first day of class. She asks her students why they are attending Collin College, and typically, students mention a number of factors.
“It is just like that with history,” Gunderson said. “Things don't happen because of one reason. We don't go to war because of just one thing. There are many different events that lead up to it.”
Giving personal examples of how he has applied historical knowledge in making personal decisions or in coming to conclusions about what’s going on in the world is an important part of Dr. Volanto's teaching.
“A firm background in history really helps you understand how the world works today,” Dr. Volanto said.
Dr. Volanto and Professor Gunderson agree that career opportunities are plentiful for individuals who pursue history. Skills learned from history courses, like the ability to read and sift through a lot of material, analyze it, synthesize it and come up with conclusions are qualities needed in almost every profession. (See related story.)
From working as a curator or teacher, to researching in the national archives, history majors have many options. In addition, graduate or law school allows for more specialization. Professors from the Collin College history department cite history majors who now work as CIA analysts, journalists and at major accounting firms.
History, to Walton and the faculty at Collin College, is more than mere memorization. It's an interesting way of learning career skills, such as critical thinking and researching, while creating an armor for the future. “It is true about being doomed to repeat history if you don't learn from it,” Walton said. “I've found that you can't figure out where you're going unless you know where you are, and you can't know where you are unless you know where you came from.”