This story was originally published in the July 19, 2013 edition of the Ashland Times Gazette
By Courtney Day Times Gazette Staff Writer
Ashbrook Center History and Government Master’s Program Attracts Students From Around the Country
It may be summer vacation for her students, but high school teacher Jill Baisinger has spent much of the past four weeks in the classroom seeking a Master of Arts degree in American history and government from Ashland University.
Baisinger, who teaches advanced placement United States government and economics courses at a private school in Indianapolis, received a James Madison Memorial Fellowship to continue her education.
She chose Ashland’s master’s program, which is housed in the university’s Ashbrook Center, in part because its schedule is designed to meet the needs of teachers. A majority of courses are taken throughout the summer during four weeklong seminar sessions, and evening courses are offered online during the school year.
The program attracts secondary school teachers from across the country with more than 60 percent of students enrolled in the program coming from out of state.
Professors also come from across the country, providing a range of expertise that would be nearly impossible to offer during the school year, when the instructors teach at a variety of other institutions.
Baisinger said she appreciates that the program focuses on the country’s founding and takes an in-depth look at primary source documents rather than relying on secondary texts and academic analysis.
The teacher said she expects the program to influence her own teaching in that she will be able to better incorporate primary sources and seminar-style discussions into her classes.
Baisinger said she enjoys the depth and academic rigor of the program, as well.
“We may get a whole class done in a week, but it’s intense and it’s not easy,” she said while taking a break from her fourth class of the summer.
Christy Ting teaches middle school history and civics in northern Virginia. This is her second summer taking courses at Ashland, and she also utilizes the online courses during the school year.
Ting said while there are challenges to taking the Web-based courses, they are a good option to help teachers complete the program.
The online courses utilize video conferencing to allow students and professors to have discussions remotely. The courses are cheaper than the summer seminars, costing $650 instead of $1,500 because the summer tuition includes room and board.
The summer classes provide a more immersive learning experience as program participants live together, eat together and study together.
Program director Chris Pascarella describes the program as “almost like history camp” for the nearly 200 students who enroll each summer.
“I think that has been part of our success is that students come here and they feel like they are part of a community,” he said.
Most students stay for more than one session, taking two to four courses during the summer, Pascarella said.
“I love the interactions with the professors,” Ting said. “They bring a diverse background and expertise to the program.”
She said she also enjoys meeting and getting to know other teachers who are passionate about both history and teaching.
Ting said she has found her experience at AU brought new ideas and fresh insight to her work and also allowed her to model for her classes what it looks like to be a student.
“What we are trying to do is train them to think in the way of a historian,” Pascarella said. “The idea is to teach them to be the producers of knowledge.”
AU first began offering weeklong history and government workshops in 2002 with federal grant money to provide professional development for American history teachers. Then in 2005, the university launched the degree program after workshop participants suggested the courses would make a good master’s program.
The grant funding is no longer available, but the program is now viable on its own.
Pascarella said the program uses direct mail for promotion but has grown mostly through word of mouth.
So far, about 30 students have completed the program, and the number of graduates is growing each year.
In addition to 32 credit hours of coursework, students are required to complete a master’s thesis, a research-based capstone project or to pass a comprehensive final exam.
Teachers often take three to four years to complete the master’s program, but with the new online course offerings, students can complete the program in as little as 15 months.
Pascarella said practicing teachers who apply for master’s programs usually are met with skepticism from academia, and some academics at first questioned the quality of a program geared toward teachers who continue to teach full time while completing graduate work.
“I think we’ve surprised everybody and in some ways even surprised ourselves,” he said. “The scholarship that our students have produced is impressive.”
While a few graduates find they want to further pursue historical scholarship, a majority intend to return to the classroom upon completion of the program and to pass on their knowledge to students.
“The deep intention is to improve the quality of education,” Pascarella said. “We are enabling them to go and train a new generation of American youth.”