Plan to implement history graduate degree gains traction

Jada Krening, News Reporter

Oregon State University, has roughly 220 students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history. Yet, OSU does not offer a graduate program in history for students hoping to continue their education after graduation.

Consequently, Nicole von Germeten, the director of the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, along with Associate Professor Stacey Smith and SHPR Head Advisor David Bishop, have strived to create a master’s degree in history at OSU. Germeten said in a survey presented to undergraduate students to gauge interest in the potential master’s program, 120 people responded, with eighteen students stating they would apply for the program in fall 2020 if it became available.

Germeten has been a key factor in the effort to implement a master’s of history at OSU. As the director of SHPR, Germeten has been responsible for writing most of the proposal for the potential program. In addition, she has received support from her fellow history faculty, including Associate Professor of History Marisa Chappell, Professor of History Paul Kopperman, Associate Professor Stacey Smith and SHPR Head Advisor David Bishop. 

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Germeten said the process of creating a new graduate program is complex, but so far, she has completed a number of required steps, including getting the dean’s signature on the proposal and having the proposal reviewed by external reviewers, which include history and graduate department directors from Clemson University, University of California Santa Cruz and California State University Long Beach. 

These external reviewers emphasized the strength of the current history staff at OSU in their report, stating that “the committee feels strongly that the faculty are highly qualified and accomplished,” and “faculty size and range of expertise is fantastic.” OSU currently has about 27 professors in the history department, all of which have doctorate degrees. 

Germeten said only a few more smaller, internal steps are needed before officially submitting the proposal. 

Currently, OSU offers a graduate program in the history of science, which differs from the field of general history and more steadily aligns with OSU’s STEM focus. The proposed history master’s program will consist of two tracks in addition to the history of science field, including U.S. and local citizenship and global empires and wars. 

“[The program] really does have a theme of people giving back, the citizens of this state contextualizing our state, contextualizing our economy, the racial makeup of our state, the history of science in our state, the use of technology in our state, why certain industries have been prominent in our state historically, like logging, and why that’s no longer,” Germeten said. “All this contextualization is so important.”

Chappell also stressed the importance of the potential program, stating that a graduate degree could help OSU better understand its own history, and could bring historical perspective to students across campus. 

“We are in an era in the United States when we desperately need broader understanding of the past in order to understand our current moment,” Chappell said via email.

Germeten said the graduate program is something the history faculty has wanted since the 1970s. In fact, an effort to create and implement a similar graduate program was brought forth in 1999 and shot down in 2003, largely because it required a number of new staff to be hired. Germeten said this is not the case this time around, since OSU already has the staff and capacity to implement the program.

As a result, Germeten questions why a master’s program in history has not been implemented at OSU since. 

“It’s not some strange, niche program. It is a very popular, broad, democratic-type program. So what is the problem in this state that we don’t have it, at our largest public institution?” Germeten said.

Moreover, in addition to being the largest public institution in the state with no master’s program in history, OSU also remains the only large land-grant institution in the United States that does not have a history master’s degree. 

“Many Oregonians, including a significant proportion of undergraduate history majors at OSU, would like to proceed to graduate work in this field and to do so here,” Kopperman said via email. 

In every state, about 12.5 percent of students with bachelor’s degrees in history will obtain their master’s in history. Yet, in Oregon, only four percent of students with bachelor’s degrees in history go on to attend graduate school in the subject. Germeten emphasized that this number is problematic, especially when considering Oregon’s high school graduation rate, which is among the lowest in the country. 

Geremeten believes a master’s program in history at OSU could better equip future teachers to teach students at the high school level, which could help improve Oregon’s high school graduation rate. 

“I’m not saying that a history master’s degree is going to solve all our problems, but it is not going to hurt, and it’s going to give high school teachers a little bit better education,” Germeten said. 

In addition to education, potential career options for graduate students of history include local government, public policy, journalism and business, to name a few. 

“This program will train historians to go into our public school classrooms, journalism and other media, politics and policy, and a whole range of other fields where their historical skills and knowledge will contribute to a richer, more nuanced, and more constructive conversation about our shared problems,” Chappell said via email. 

Germeten hopes to see the new master’s program implemented by fall 2020.