History looks to underclassmen

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Photo by Jane Darby Menton.

In an effort to fight dwindling enrollment, the history department is creating recruitment events aimed at underclassmen.

At this fall’s first meeting of the History Undergraduate Advisory Council Monday afternoon, recruitment efforts took centerstage: students and Steven Pincus, Director of Undergraduate Studies in History, discussed creating targeted outreach events for freshmen and sophomores in order to bolster enrollment in a major that has faced a decline in popularity in recent years.

In response to the 16-person council’s suggestions, Pincus said the department looks to host a recruitment panel session in the coming weeks, and council members are planning smaller events where students can meet professors and history majors. The council also discussed implementing several curricular reform initiatives, including the creation of survey courses and focused programsof study called “pathways.”

“One thing we feel the history department doesn’t do well is cater to the interests and intellectual needs of first- and second-year students,” Pincus said. “Many students don’t know enough about the history department as they do about other options when it comes time to choosing a major.”

Though history was the most subscribed area of study for much of the past three decades, only 136 seniors majored in the department last year — 81 fewer than in 2002. The decrease placed history behind political science and economics in popularity.

At Monday’s meeting, students emphasized the need for more social ways to make freshmen and sophomores aware of the department’s resources before they choose a major.

Noting that little has been done in the past to market the major, council members suggested the department hold events designed to introduce underclassmen to students and professors, a method of recruitment they said was employed by many other majors including English and anthropology.

“I think other majors do a better job of publicizing their offerings and reaching out to freshmen by having classes specifically geared toward them and/or information sessions that target them,” said Allison Lazarus ’14, a member of the Advisory Council.

In the absence of targeted outreach, Pincus said many students decide to be history majors because they take a class that sparks their interest. But most courses within the department are highly specific, which Pincus said leaves many students unaware of the range of opportunities within the major. Since last year, he said the department has been working to develop “sophisticated survey courses” geared towards freshmen and sophomo res, which will be offered in the 2013-’14 school year.

Pincus said he also hopes to make the major more accessible by expanding seminar opportunities for freshmen and sophomores. Last semester, the department renamed their junior seminars “undergraduate seminars” and required each professor to reserve at least two spots for sophomores. This semester, the department also doubled the number of freshmen history seminars offered to six.

Pincus said he eventually hopes to expand the major’s online presence, sharing student and faculty research and creating a network within the department, but he added he will have to wait until the department completes curricular reforms.

Students within the history department remain enthusiastic about what the major has to offer: all seven history majors interviewed praised the quality of the department’s faculty and its emphasis on independent research.

Rachel Rothberg ’14, a member of the Student Advisory Council, said it is important for the major to attract high numbers of excited underclassmen entering each year, as student enthusiasm and interest allow the department to maintain its “outstanding” faculty and resources.

Last year, 176 students majored in political science and 170 majored in economics.

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