Notes From The Workfront: FSU History Alumnus Dan Blumlo (PhD 2010)
I went on the job market during the 2009-2010 academic year. That spring, I turned thirty and was in what seemed like a never-ending process of dissertation writing. Questions about when I would finish school and get a real job—from parents, friends, and acquaintances outside of academia—were mounting. This only added to the pressure of a rough job market and the nagging thought that I may not get a full-time position. How much longer could I scrape by from my departmental assistantship, adjuncting at Tallahassee Community College, and tutoring student athletes?
Of the sixteen positions (or was it eighteen?) that I applied for, I only received one phone interview, for a “world history instructor” position at Rock Valley College (RVC), a community college in Rockford, Illinois. While I have since heard horror stories from other academics that their professors condescendingly deterred them from pursuing careers at community colleges, luckily the professors at FSU (including Dr. Grant, Dr. Garretson, Dr. Wynot, Dr. Frank, and Dr. Upchurch) were very encouraging. In addition, my personal experience in education and teaching philosophy more closely aligned with a community college setting than a four-year school. Following a successful phone interview (this was before Zoom and Skype interviews), I received an invitation for an on-campus interview. I was well-prepared for this, thanks in part to attending Dr. Grant’s “Preparing Future Faculty” workshop. Dr. Will Benedicks at TCC also gave me excellent advice and examples of the types of questions asked at interviews for open enrollment institutions. At the on-campus interview on March 3, 2010, I was surprised to see that the northern Illinois winter was still in full effect. Despite the crisp temperature—in the 30s—and the snow on the ground, the faculty on the hiring committee assured me that it was a mild day and spring was right around the corner. The teaching demonstration and interview process was exhausting but went well. At the dinner with the hiring committee, I reluctantly took Dr. Grant’s advice not to drink any (or too much) beer, sticking instead with Diet Coke.
About a week after my return to Tallahassee, I received a job offer. A major weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I then rushed to finish my dissertation so that I could have my PhD in hand by the time the fall semester began. During this process, I enjoyed amazing support from fellow grad students, whether it was proofreading chapter drafts or giving syllabi, notes, and book suggestions for classes that I may teach one day. The friendships I had at FSU made leaving Tallahassee sadly painful.
From my defense in April through the summer, things went great. Then, in late July, just days before my move, one of my new colleagues at RVC called to inform me that two of the five classes I was scheduled to teach had not filled. My fall teaching schedule would have to change to include the more popular and “fillable” classes, Western Civ I and U.S. History to 1865. At this point I faced the stressful reality that in three weeks I was not only moving across the country to a place where I didn’t know anyone, but at my new school I would have to teach five preps, including two that I had never before taught.
The fall 2010 semester was the most difficult semester I’ve ever had. As I drove to campus each morning, I fantasized about turning off at the interstate exit and just driving. Not to sound like sour grapes, I was very lucky and happy to be employed in a full-time, tenure track position. I suppose it’s never been easy for me to adjust to transitions. Nevertheless, I adapted to a busy and lonely semester, away from the comfort of FSU’s history’s department, faculty, and my fellow students. I would soon have help in overcoming this transition thanks to the welcoming atmosphere provided by my new colleagues. Concerning the semester’s workload, I must again credit Dr. Grant and his “Teaching College History” class for preparing me for a teaching-focused position. The experience I gained as a teaching assistant at FSU, where I was given the independence to plan, develop, and teach both halves of the World History surveys was invaluable as well. Beyond this, the rigor of my graduate preparation made the first difficult semester - and all the semesters that followed - possible.
In the decade since, I have gone on to teach ten different classes at RVC, where I continue to learn about new subjects and incorporate new methods of instruction in the classroom. I was able to publish part of my dissertation as a book chapter and have since moved on to research more accessible, local history topics. I’ve also given a number of papers at academic conferences and lectures to the community through RVC’s “1st Tuesday Lecture” Series and RVC’s Center for Learning in Retirement. The academic opportunities provided by FSU History’s grad program played an invaluable role in preparing me for the workfront. I earned tenure in 2013, have served as department chair, and will become a full professor next fall.