Lynne Curry has always loved helping students delve into history and consider how events could have turned out differently under different circumstances.
Now, the Eastern Illinois University professor is excited about using her post as EIU’s 2006-2007 Faculty Laureate to encourage students to consider how the choices they make in their education will affect the stories of their lives.
As the university's official spokeswoman on the importance of a general, liberal-arts education, she will speak during EIU’s Fall Convocation, a welcoming ceremony for new students, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, in the Grand Ballroom, Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.
“I’m so fortunate to be given the opportunity to send this message out to undergrads about what a gift they have here with their education,” Curry said. “It’s like this magic door that’s opening, and they’re about to walk through it. I hope to let students know that this is all there for them, so they should grab it.”
The educational experience extends beyond going to class and focusing on a single subject, she said.
“It’s not simply a matter of students taking advantage of opportunities, but it’s also the students’ responsibility to become engaged and involved,” she said. “You have the opportunity to go explore the library, but you also have the responsibility to do it. It’s not only about taking from the university, but also giving something back.”
Curry said her undergraduate experience at the University of California at Santa Barbara was similar to that of Eastern students’, as both schools emphasize the importance of a well-rounded general education.
“I think I benefited immensely from that,” she said. “I have not forgotten taking courses in things I never even knew existed before. I’m happy that we have an institution that values that experience for undergraduate students as well.”
EIU students have the added benefit of learning in a close-knit environment, she said.
Curry said that teaching in large lecture halls doesn’t allow for the personal connection that is inherent in small classrooms.
“We, as professors, get to see a student grow right before our eyes,” Curry said. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to teach small classes, and I’m convinced it’s beneficial for students as well.”
The small classes allow Curry to lead discussions that encourage students to go far beyond memorizing important facts and figures in history.
“I probably stress more than anything else the value of following an argument from its beginning through its stages to its logical conclusion,” she said, adding that she encourages students to think in an analytical and logical manner.
Curry, who joined the EIU faculty in 1996, teaches classes in American legal and constitutional history, as well as on the social history of the United States.
One of the things she loves about history is that each watershed moment could have turned out differently if different decisions had been made or different scenarios would have played out.
“Nothing was inevitable. Nothing could have been predicted,” she said. “I love ambiguities. I like thinking about things not in terms of absolutes. I enjoy exploring those roads with students.”
Even seemingly mundane events and decisions are important in forming each person’s journey, which in turn affects the world around them.
As she teaches her students about history’s biggest events, she is careful to have students consider their roles in the community, the nation and the world.
She wants to use her post as Faculty Laureate to underscore the importance of the decisions students are making at this historic crossroads in their lives.
“What you do right here is going to start shaping how you live your life beyond college,” she said. “Will you sort of slide through this world, or will you give something back? Will you leave this world better than how you found it?”