History program overhaul to prepare students for jobs
By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
Beginning this fall, Grand Canyon University’s new undergraduate history programs will be available to students interested in careers as museum curators, educators, historians and preservationists.
The three history emphases under GCU’s new College of Humanities and Social Sciences include a general history bachelor’s degree tract, in addition to those focusing on history for secondary education and public history.
Dr. David Dean, an assistant professor, recently led an overhaul of GCU’s history programs to update courses and contemporize the program with the goal of preparing students for jobs out of college.
Dean added that students also would be in a better position to seek graduate degrees to become masters in their niche areas of history.
GCU is the only university in Arizona that offers an undergraduate degree in public history, he said. Others offer graduate-level programs. GCU felt there was space to “capitalize on the cultural, heritage tourism market,” to develop students for internships and entry-level positions at places such as civic historical preservation offices.
“More people visit historic sites and national parks than they do Disneyland or places like that in this country,” said Dean, a certified historian and longtime history educator who previously served as associate dean of the College of Humanities at University of Phoenix.
He left his position one year ago to return to GCU, which he briefly attended as an undergraduate and where he taught as an adjunct. His wife, Marian, is involved with the GCU Guild and the couple has enjoyed building relationships with students both on campus and off.
Dean is seen as one of the more engaging full-time humanities faculty members. This past year, his students attended a Civil War reenactment in southern Arizona and raced model Roman chariots as part of their studies.
Kimberly MacKenzie, 18, a second-year junior history major, said she looks forward to being a part of the newly refurbished history program. She said Dean has been approachable and enthusiastic about developing the new curriculum.
This summer, Dean said he plans to meet with dozens of museums and government preservation offices to develop relationships that could lead to future job opportunities for GCU students.
“I particularly want to do internships specifically in museums or with different groups that specialize in history, maybe more nonprofit areas,” said MacKenzie, whose family has been involved with medieval historical reenactments.
Her love for history goes back to her early childhood, when she remembers going to bed to stories such as “Beowulf” rather than traditional children’s books. Now she feels that her GCU degree with an emphasis in public history will prepare her for a job as a museum curator or in some role where she educates the public about historical issues.
“The more you read into history, the more you uncover,” she said.
Dr. Sherman Elliott, acting dean for the new College of Humanities, said the University overhauled its history program to provide students with more contemporary coursework.
Dean developed exciting new courses such as “Southwest Borderlands,” which incorporates Old West history, Native American history and modern analyses of the ongoing immigration strife related to Arizona’s border with Mexico. The course “War and Revolution” examines a range of conflicts across multiple areas of history, while in the past much of that material would have been condensed into traditional American or European history courses.
Rather than traditional Renaissance or Greek history courses, for example, GCU consolidated material into a Mediterranean history course.
Elliott believes GCU’s public history degree track will enable students to work their way into preservationist roles in the community.
“We have taken the best parts of a classical liberal arts degree and co-mingled it with content and skills that will aid graduates with a direct application to the workforce,” Elliott said.
Dean, who helped design hundreds of humanities courses at the University of Phoenix, said he was inspired to return to GCU to help reorganize its program.
He attended GCU as an undergraduate from 1983 to 1987 before graduating elsewhere, although many of the life lessons he learned from his GCU professors still echo in his mind. The spirit of mentorship he experienced then remains strong in the history program, he said.
“I wanted to bring that same passion about history and care about ministering to students,” Dean said. “I feel like I’m doing this because it’s the responsible thing to do, and I have a sense of stewardship in this role.”
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 602.639.7030 or [email protected].