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Karen Younger

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Karen Younger

Karen Younger is Assistant Professor of History and Chairperson of the Department of Humanities at Waynesburg University. She earned her PhD in 2006, under the direction of Dr. Lori Ginzberg. When asked how the Richards Civil War Era Center impacted her academic and professional career, Younger responded with glowing praise. Her experience can be read below, in her own words:

“My five years in the Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State University not only made me a better historian, but also prepared me in unanticipated ways for my career.  Workshops with gifted classmates, and professors who were nothing short of brilliant, challenged me to think broadly and deeply. Teaching history courses to talented undergraduate students, played a central role in developing my passion for teaching.  My work at the Center challenged me to develop skills I didn’t know I had, which have proved vital to my career; namely, the ability to plan, to imagine, to administrate, to communicate, and to engage.

The collegial yet rigorous environment at the Center, enabled me to build a successful and rewarding career at a small liberal arts university. In my current role as Chairperson of the Humanities Department and Assistant Professor of History at Waynesburg University, I work with students, with faculty, and with administration, and I draw every day on the skills I developed during my time at the Center. My years at the Center were a wonderful time in my life, and the best educational and professional experience I could have asked for.”

Jon White

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Jon White

I can say without any hesitation that I would not be where I am today without the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center.  The Center’s faculty—especially Bill Blair and Mark Neely—were mentors to me throughout my undergraduate career, and they have continued to be wonderful friends since.  In fact, I began my book Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln as an independent study with Mark when I was a senior at Penn State.  I didn’t know at the time that he had been planning to write something about the soldier vote of 1864, but instead he graciously gave the topic to me.  When my book came out last year I was thrilled to be able to dedicate it to him.

The Richards Center helped me develop professionally in other ways as well.  For example, after my sophomore year, the Center funded a summer research fellowship that enabled me to work at two Civil War-related historic sites in the Philadelphia area—the Camp William Penn Museum and Pennypacker Mills.  Having these experiences helped me prepare me for the public history world in the future.  When I was in graduate school I worked as an intern in the Federal Judicial History Office at the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C., and my first job out of graduate school was working as an assistant historian in that office.

Now I am a tenured professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University, in Newport News, Virginia.  I have written or edited 6 books and about 70 articles, essays and reviews.  I am currently finishing up three book projects:  a history of sleep and dreams during the Civil War (forthcoming with UNC Press), a collection of African American correspondence with Abraham Lincoln (to be submitted to Southern Illinois University Press later this month), and a co-authored history of the USS Monitor (under review with Kent State University Press).  After I finish these three books I will turn my attention to a history of the slave trade during the Civil War.

Bill Blair has done such a wonderful job in building the Richards Center into one of the premier academic centers in the country.  This year one of my top students is applying to Penn State for graduate school in Civil War history.  I know that if she attends Penn State she will receive a rigorous education and a thorough grounding in the Civil War era.  The professors in the Richards Center are what really make the place—I would not have had the success I’ve had in my career without the selfless investments they made in me when I was a student.

A few other highlights from my career:  In October I was elected vice president of the Board of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Institute, I was invited to serve on the Board of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Association, and I was invited to join the Advisory Council at Ford’s Theatre.

Timothy Wesley

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Timothy Wesley

My wife and I came to Penn State and the Richards Center in 2004.  We had heard horror stories about how isolating PhD programs can be, and thus came to State College with more than a bit of trepidation.  Thank goodness for the Richards Center!  Of course, the center was most essential to my success as a graduate student because of the generosity of its supporters.  I faithfully received funds for travel, conferences, books, whatever I needed...Bill Blair seemingly always found a way to match up the graduate student with the appropriate and available grant or scholarship.  But there was more to it than that.  The Richards Center became our home, and everyone involved with it became our family.   Bill, Matt Isham, and Barby Singer made a point of inviting grad students and donors to common events, making the graduate experience a little less daunting in the short term and brokering friendships that endure in the long.  

I have fortunately found success since leaving Penn State.  My first book, The Politics of Faith During the Civil War (LSU Press, 2013), was received well, and along with my training while with the Richards Center, helped me gain a tenure track position at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.  In addition to thinking about and planning my next book project, I have presented my subsequent work at national and regional conferences, reviewed numerous books for journals in our field, refereed manuscripts and article submissions for several presses and journals, and written (or am writing) several chapters in upcoming edited volumes on various aspects of Civil War history.  I believe wholeheartedly that none of these good things would have materialized without my affiliation with the Richards Civil War Era Center, the connections in the field it helped me make as a student, the support of its donors, and the mentorship of its Director.

Sean Trainor

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Sean Trainor

Since graduating from Penn State and the Richards Civil War Era Center in the summer of 2015, I have been pursuing a career as an academic freelancer in Gainesville, Florida. In this role, I’ve secured teaching contracts with Santa Fe College, the University of Florida, and Penn State University; organized a seminar with the University of Florida’s Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (writingforthepublic.org); helped design a digital pedagogy project for the Richards Center’s People’s Contest digital archiving project (currently in progress); and published my writing in both public and academic venues. These include The Atlantic, Salon, TIME, the Civil War Monitor, Business History Review, The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, and a series of Gale / Cengage ebooks on U.S. history.

The role of academic freelancer has allowed me to pursue my wide-ranging interests in pedagogy, public-facing and academic writing, digital humanities, and professional service, while leveraging my academic training and making the most of a slack full-time employment market in history. My experience has proved (to my own surprise) both professionally and financially rewarding, and offers a model for how to be a publically-engaged, alt-ac historian in the era of the so-called “gig economy.” Going forward, I hope to continue to expand my client base and transition my dissertation into a book manuscript.

My background as a member of the Penn State and Richards Center communities has been essential to my successful transition into this new, largely-uncharted career path. In addition to supporting my traditional academic training with generous research funds, rigorous teaching opportunities, outstanding speaker series, and engaging seminar offerings, the Richards Center also encouraged my interest in public history, professional service, and the digital humanities. As a Richards Center research assistant, for instance, I created a short-lived but popular blog for the Center, where I was able to hone my writing chops; as a later stage graduate student, I had the privilege to help organize the first Emerging Scholars workshop (a tradition now in its fourth year); and as a recent graduate, the Center has helped me build my digital humanities portfolio by hiring me to create a digital project around the Milton Lytle Diaries. Perhaps most importantly, the Richards Center has provided me with a community of friends and mentors on whom I continue to rely for personal and professional support.

Michael Smith

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Michael Smith

I graduated from Penn State with a Ph.D. in History in 2005, and am currently an associate professor and head of the Department of History at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I benefited immensely from my association with the Richards Center in a variety of ways. Generous funding support made it possible to get my dissertation research and writing done in a timely fashion. I really enjoyed working with the center's distinguished faculty members, including my adviser Mark Neely, Bill Blair, Amy Greenberg, Carol Reardon, and others who were incredibly generous with their time and support. The grad students who were ahead of me were likewise generous with advice and encouragement, while the members of my cohort who I shared the incredible ups and downs of the graduate school experience became like family to me. It has also been just great to see subsequent students come through the Center, benefit from its strengths and generosity, and continue to represent it well. I certainly think that anyone interested in pursuing the academic study of the American Civil War Era should seriously consider what the Richards Center has to offer them.