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ASU online student advances in career by studying history

Scott Jackson

November 06, 2018

Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero once said, “We study history not to be clever in another time, but to be wise always.”

Studying history is something many students do, but those who attend Arizona State University take it one step further and learn what it means to learn history to the fullest.

“The thing that I appreciated so much about ASU’s program, that I think others lacked, is that ASU’s professors push us to become historians instead of just learning history,” said Scott Jackson, a student currently enrolled in the online MA history program at ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Jackson teaches high school in Utah and already has a JD and a background in political science, but when some faculty members and administrators from Snow College approached him about needing more interdisciplinary professors, he started looking for master’s degree programs.

That’s when he stumbled on the online MA history program at ASU. Since Jackson was already working full-time and raising a family, the online program allowed him the flexibility to continue teaching while working toward his degree.

“Interestingly, despite working longer hours, I never felt burnt out,” Jackson said. “It was as if the variance to my day sustained me. It has been extremely rigorous and challenging, but I suppose that is why I have loved it.”

When Jackson would tell people he was working toward an MA in history, he was met with skepticism. Many students who study online may run into doubt from others about their degree, but Jackson knows his studies are important and his program is strong.

“As if it was a second-class degree,” Jackson said. “However, when I added that it was coming from ASU, it seemed to allay the concerns that people initially responded with. It made me happy that I went with the program that required more dedication because I believe that going through ASU helped me realize my goal.”

That goal was to teach at a small college or teaching university. After Snow College reached out to him, he became an adjunct faculty member with them, teaching a class twice a week after teaching his classes at the high school.

“That was a tough time,” Jackson said. “However, it was definitely worth it because I formed relationships and established a favorable reputation which led to a full-time position this fall.”

Jackson was offered a job at Snow with the understanding he would finish the degree this fall. Landing the position in higher education was not his only success while at ASU, though.

Jackson has been able to overcome a fear of writing papers since joining the program. In fact, Peter Van Cleave, a history lecturer at ASU's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, has assisted Jackson and two other students in submitting papers for a panel for the American Academy of Religion Western Region 2019 Annual Conference.

“I have had a writing phobia since I was in middle school,” Jackson said. “I am not sure why. However, I was very timid when I started to write as a historian because I never had written in that unique way. Fortunately, one of my earliest classes was from Dr. Van Cleave. I know I felt some confidence in writing as a historian during the first class I took from him.”

Along with peer review and paper feedback, Van Cleave and Jackson had multiple Skype meetings. Van Cleave is able to help students like Jackson work through their ideas and analyze the fundamental arguments they are trying to form.

“In terms of strong writing skills, writing is how we primarily communicate as historians and this is even more so in the online modality,” Van Cleave said. “As an asynchronous environment, almost all of our interactions — whether through papers or discussion boards — is done through writing. Developing strong writing skills is paramount to what we do in the program.”

The paper Jackson and his classmates submitted to the conference was accepted and their panel will take place at ASU in March.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed this program,” Jackson said. “I don’t think I have ever learned so much in a year-and-a-half span. You know the program has been excellent when the thought of not having this program in your life causes uneasiness.”

Jackson will take what he has learned from the program and carry it into his career. The skills he developed are vital in today’s workforce.

“Being a historian entails critical thinking, careful examination of resources and a broad understanding of philosophical concepts,” Jackson said. “As a result, I am better equipped to do what Snow College requires of me — teach interdisciplinary courses, not just history.”

Jackson is set to graduate in December.