February 28, 2017

Honors Students Use Lessons from History to Change the Future

Pictured, from left to right, are Dr. Mike Savoie, dean of the Honors College; Sean Jankowski, a senior from Valdosta; Kristy Clark, a junior from Valdosta; Ann Williams, a senior from Grayson; and Josh Reed, a freshman from Monroe. 
VALDOSTA — A group of Valdosta State University Honors College students recently attended the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Campus Leaders Summit: Cultivating Community and (Re) Defining Civic Engagement in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Jake Newsome, a VSU alumnus, contacted Dr. Mike Savoie, dean of the Honors College, about applying for the summit. Newsome earned a Bachelor of Arts in history in 2009 and now serves as the campus outreach program officer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).
The USHMM, in collaboration with Citizen University, selected 10 universities from around the nation to “dive deeply into the history of the Holocaust and explore its relevance for today’s college students.” Kristy Clark, a junior from Valdosta; Sean Jankowski, a senior from Valdosta; Ann Williams, a senior from Grayson; and Josh Reed, a freshman from Monroe, joined students from universities such as New York University and Yale University for a weekend of learning and brainstorming.
“We were able to hear from recognized journalists, leaders involved in politics, and just learn from people who are very active in civic engagement,” said Savoie. “They were incredibly effective communicators.”
Students analyzed lessons of the Holocaust by exploring the museum, participating in interactive workshops, and networking with other students and civic leaders from around the United States. Each group developed a plan for a civic engagement project that would make a difference at their university.
“We were able to share ideas and work together with students from other schools to refine our ideas,” said Williams. “Perhaps the most applicable method of prevention of another Holocaust is promoting connection and unity between diverse groups in a community.”
Throughout the spring semester, the students plan to create a collection of oral histories that characterize the cultural makeup of VSU. Their project, “Building Community Through Dialogue: An Oral History Project,” will focus on ethnicity, race, religion, and cultural traditions. They plan to house the collection of oral histories in Odum Library’s Archives and Special Collections as well as create an online database.
The students are developing a matrix of questions they will ask their interviewees. Through their research, they expect to show that common connections transcend cultural differences.
Clark explained that they want their project to be a legacy — one that evolves and changes with the campus, and one that includes a variety of people.  
“I don’t want this to just be an Honors College project. I want it to penetrate throughout the institution,” said Savoie. “We want to see the inclusion of Women and Gender Studies, African American Studies, and broader constituent groups. The more that we can come to understand our diversity and how those ideals interconnect, the better we are for society.” 
“We hope that through the database people can listen and learn about these different cultures and traditions,” said Clark.
Citizen University is a nonprofit organization that works with a national array of partners to help Americans cultivate the values, systems, knowledge, and skills of effective citizenship.
The USHMM is a living memorial to the Holocaust. It works to inspire citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.
Contact Dr. Mike Savoie at honors@valdosta.edu to learn more about the project.
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