Notes From The Workfront: FSU History Alumna Becca Shriver (PhD 2018)
The last two years have been an incredible journey, and it’s great to take a moment to reflect on my experiences since I left Tallahassee. Initially, I wasn’t sure where I should start. While trying to write this, I kept finding myself staring at a painting one of my students created after we returned from a study abroad trip last year. The red and orange sunset sky, which is reflected in the river, contrasts with the black and white etching of the Pilgrim Bridge in Puente la Reina, Spain. Perhaps it was a mistake to hang it directly behind my computer screen. It’s too easy to let my mind drift back to those warm summer evenings in Spain, particularly since the pandemic started. However, it occurred to me that this painting captures a couple of things that I want to say here.
Shortly after I defended my dissertation in the Spring of 2018, I accepted a tenure-track position at Missouri Southern State University, which is a mid-size regional public university in Joplin, MO. My first day on campus, one of my new colleagues from the Spanish department saw me in the stairwell, and rushed to greet me, saying, “You must be the new European historian! We are going to plan a study abroad together that will focus on the Camino de Santiago. It’s going to be amazing! Let’s meet next week to go over the details. Ciao!” While slightly caught off guard, I didn’t need much convincing. I quickly learned this type of interaction was not unusual. The faculty at Missouri Southern are constantly looking for ways to collaborate. During my on-campus interview, it was apparent the faculty worked well together, particularly in contrast to some of the other schools where I interviewed. Knowing how valuable my working relationships with others in my cohort and mentors at Florida State were, I felt exceptionally lucky to end up at a university where I would continue to have that kind of friendly environment and support system.
While I was right to assume that there was strong collegiality among MSSU faculty, my expectations regarding the students I’d be teaching were not as accurate. I expected there to be differences between FSU and Missouri Southern students - and there are, but not in the ways I anticipated. Most of my MSSU students are the first in their families to pursue a college degree, and many come from rural communities. A significant proportion of them also have young children and work full-time. Considering how much they are juggling, I found that it was important to be more flexible and hands-on than I ever needed to be at FSU. However, the students here, particularly history majors, are incredibly hard working, eager to learn, talented, and nothing short of brilliant. My students spent the entire time walking the Camino having deep, insightful conversations about gender, religion, language, ableism, and other academic topics. They took every opportunity to talk to other pilgrims, learn about where they were from, and why they were walking. A handful of them decided at the beginning of the trip that they would always order the most unusual item on the menu, something they knew they would never find in Joplin. One of their favorite dishes was a shark blood stew. Although most of them had never left Missouri, they were open, courteous, and respectful travelers. Students are different at every institution. To help my students succeed, I had to let go of my assumptions about what I thought they needed, learn what I could do to help them thrive, and celebrate their strengths.
Agreeing to co-lead a study abroad trip to Spain was the first of many projects that I agreed to because they seemed so exciting. Over the last two years I’ve helped organize and lead two study abroad trips, chaired the International Studies Committee, served as the faculty advisor and instructor of Model UN, co-taught four different courses with faculty from a variety of disciplines, prepped fifteen new courses, created a certificate program in European Studies, and am in the process of developing a Peace Studies program. However, there’s nothing I’ve taken on that I wish I had not. Additionally, everything I’ve done is related to my scholarship in some capacity (multi-tasking is essential!). At many universities like Missouri Southern, on top of teaching, service and community engagement are critical elements of faculty members’ jobs. By pursuing service-related activities that I am passionate about and connect to my research interests, I’ve remained energized.
Of course, I wouldn’t be in my current position had it not been for the exceptional training and preparation I received at FSU. The program is designed to make you a competitive candidate on the job market. Having three subfields in addition to your major field is incredibly valuable. Most schools need their new faculty to teach at least one outside area, but others need someone to teach more. Additionally, the PFF program, service/committee positions available to graduate students, and having the opportunity to be instructor of record before graduating were invaluable. Above all else, I would not be where I am had it not been for the amazing mentors and faculty at Florida State. I owe my success to the sage advice, encouragement, and constant support I received from Drs. Nathan Stoltzfus, Suzy Sinke, Will Hanley, Pam Robbins, Bob Gellately… this list could go on until I’ve named everyone in the department. I am forever grateful for my time at FSU, and I look back on every moment fondly.
If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out (Shriver-R@mssu.edu).