Walls Coming Down in Department of History

The walls are coming down in the Department of History at Eastern Kentucky University.

No, it’s not another construction project on the Richmond campus, but the Department is seeking to break down disciplinary silos and build on the marketable skills of its graduates.

History majors at EKU can now choose from among 23 career paths designed to meld a broad liberal arts background with specific skill sets via a second major or minor in such fields as broadcasting and electronic media, journalism, public relations, advertising, paralegal sciences, economics, geography, communication studies, management and globalization and international affairs, among others.

“The job market is highly competitive, and we are looking for a way to set our students apart,” said Dr. Chris Taylor, chair of EKU’s Department of History. “It will become more obvious to employers that our graduates have marketable skills.”

Eastern is the first institution in Kentucky and among the first nationally to take such a comprehensive approach, Taylor said.

“Like many of the humanities and liberal arts, majoring in history gives you the critical skills employers tell us they want, no matter what field you’re going into,” she said, noting that EKU history majors learn quickly how to research subjects, frame questions, think critically and communicate effectively as both writers and speakers.

Still, the stigma exists that the only career path for history majors is teaching – that, by itself, the study of history provides no other vocational skills. Indeed, Taylor noted, “almost all my freshmen are history-teaching majors.”

EKU students are only beginning to see the exciting range of possibilities that the career paths offer. Dr. John Wade, dean of EKU’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the change has “led to a renewed sense of purpose among our history majors.”

Though the paths are expected to attract students who “want to major in history and do other things,” Taylor cautioned it’s not about numbers.

“This is about focusing on our students,” she said. “This is about our students’ future and the success of the University, not competition with other programs.”

The 23 career paths would not be possible, in fact, without the collaboration of several other academic departments on campus. One significant partner is the Department of Communication, which offers majors in broadcasting and electronic media, journalism, public relations and communications.

Dr. Fran Dickson, chair of EKU’s Department of Communication, called the paths “a wonderful option for both communication and history students. Students who major in both communication and history will have the insight and ability to create videos and films with an historic emphasis, work in historical museums, or organizations associated with historic issues, in event planning, crisis management, public relations and electronic media. The options are endless.”

Taylor’s own career path offers “living proof” of the importance of diversifying a skill set and “creating a synergy, rather than just going down a (narrow) path.” She earned her undergraduate degrees in communications research and contemporary British literature, but began her professional career with Rockwell, where she entered management training, having impressed her employer with her ability to analyze markets and write reports.

It’s the same reason, she said, why the CEOs of many of the nation’s leading companies have liberal arts backgrounds. “They took the skill sets acquired in their liberal studies majors and pursued advanced education such as MBA degrees.”

The addition of the 23 career paths – and she hopes to add even more – does not in any way diminish the core values of the EKU history program, Taylor emphasized.

“This program has built a strong reputation because we are so good at teaching those core research skills,” she said, “and we will not walk away from that.”

For more information about the EKU Department of History and the career paths, visit history.eku.edu or call 859-622-1287.

Published on October 29, 2014

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